Colombia fines Argos, Cemex and Holcim $66 mln for fixing cement prices

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia on Tuesday fined cement companies Cementos Argos, Cemex and Holcim, along with some of its managers, more than 200 billion pesos ($66 million) for fixing prices.

The companies, which represent 96 percent of Colombia’s cement market, allegedly agreed to set prices between January 2010 and December 2012, during which time cement prices increased 29.9 percent while inflation was only 9.3 percent.

“Argos, Cemex and Holcim did not offer an economically reasonable or truthful explanation that would justify the price parallels, nor the way prices are set within these companies,” the trade and industry regulator said in a statement.

The companies “abstained, in a conscious and coordinated manner, from competing effectively,” the regulator said.

Holcim said in a statement it disagreed with the regulator’s findings and that it had turned over “conclusive proof that demonstrates that this anti-competitive conduct never existed.”

The company will use “administrative resources and judicial actions” to protest the fine, the statement said.

Argos said in a separate statement it “rejected” the fine and that it too had turned over evidence that there was no price-fixing.

“We will exhaust our legal resources against the decision of the regulator,” it said.

Mexico’s Cemex said in a statement it would also take legal measures and “fundamentally disagreed” with the “erroneous” conclusions drawn by the regulator.

The cement market in Colombia reported sales of more than 8 trillion pesos between 2010 and 2012, the investigation showed.

The watchdog has undertaken five investigations since 1997 against companies in the cement sector with charges of illegal pricing.The latest investigation is one of multiple probes against cement companies by authorities in more than 30 countries or jurisdictions including the European Union, Spain, Colombia, India, Poland, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, the United Kingdom and Belgium, the regulator said.

($1 = 3,013.99 Colombian pesos)

Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra and Julia Symmes Cobb; Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Bill Trott and James Dalgleish