German watchdog fines Carlsberg and others for price fixing

DUESSELDORF (Reuters) - Germany’s antitrust regulator has fined Danish brewer Carlsberg A/S and five smaller German brewers a total of 231 million euros ($319 million) in a second round of penalties for colluding on price.

Carlsberg, which said in March 2013 it was under investigation by the German Federal Cartel Office, said it was “vehemently rejecting the accusations” and would appeal against the 62 million euro fine it received.

The cartel office also said unlisted brewers Bolten, Radeberger, Erzquell, Frueh and Gaffel were affected, as were a regional brewers’ association in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia and seven individuals.

The watchdog had in January fined five domestic brewers a total of 107 million euros as part of the probe, which related to price increases agreed between 2006 and 2008.

Bolten, Radeberger and Gaffel also said they were appealing against the ruling. Erzquell and Frueh were not immediately available for comment.

Germany is Europe’s biggest producer of beer and has the third-largest per-capita consumption after the Czech Republic and Austria. Beer is a source of national and regional price for many Germans, with the country’s more than 1,300 breweries restricted to using only malt, hops, yeast and water under strict purity regulations.

The German unit of brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev also took part in price fixing, but was spared a fine because of the information it provided, the Cartel Office said in January.

Reporting by Tom Kaeckenhoff, Anneli Palmen and Ludwig Burger; Editing by Victoria Bryan and David Holmes