Portugal competition watchdog fines insurers over cartel practices

LISBON, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Portugal’s competition authority AdC said on Thursday it had fined four insurance companies a total of 54 million euros ($59.6 million) for “cartel practices”, following a long-running investigation.

The biggest fines were imposed on the local branch of Zurich Insurance Group and Portuguese insurer Lusitania, AdC said in a statement. Fidelidade and Multicare had their fines reduced as they filed a leniency request that assisted the probe.

A fifth insurer, Seguradoras Unidas, avoided a fine as it was first to make a leniency request.

AdC said all five insurers coordinated on prices they presented to large corporate clients regarding workplace accident, health and auto insurance.

This involved setting prices offered at a level “so that the incumbent insurer retained the respective client,” AdC said.

The investigation was launched in May 2017 after a leniency request made by Seguradoras Unidas and Fidelidade. In following months, AdC raided the Lisbon premises of all insurers involved.

“The investigation concluded that Lusitania shared the market through customer allocation in the categories of workplace accident and auto insurance and Zurich did the same in the category of workplace accident insurance, between 2014 and 2017,” the authority said.

The fine amount was based on an assessment of the magnitude of the infringement, the company’s turnover and annual payment of the office-bearers involved.

Zurich Portugal, the local branch of Zurich Insurance Group, said on its website it was considering making an appeal, saying it did not agree with AdC’s conclusions.

“Zurich Portugal takes these matters very seriously and it was totally transparent in its collaboration with the competition authority,” it said.

It said the company and one of its directors were notified by AdC on Wednesday about the fine.

Lusitania did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. Fidelidade, Multicare and Seguradoras Unidas were not immediately available for comment.

$1 = 0.9060 euros Reporting by Catarina Demony Editing by Axel Bugge and Edmund Blair