Interview: Oliver Burkhard on cartel fine in the heavy plate case

Yesterday we have received an administrative fine notice of 370 million euros in the heavy plate case. Besides other companies and associations of the steel industry, the German Federal Cartel Authority (Bundeskartellamt) had for some time also been investigating against thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG on suspected cartel agreements in the product groups heavy plate and carbon flat steel. Oliver Burkhard, responsible for compliance at thyssenkrupp, answers the most important questions on the fine notice.

Mr. Burkhard, you have just spent two months as a member of the Executive Board responsible for Compliance, and thyssenkrupp has already received a fine of 370 million euros. Not a good start, is it?

Well, we were all aware that the fine would be imposed. This concerns the sanctioning of old cases. The German Federal Cartel Office has established that by 2008 there had been violations of antitrust law among competitors in the steel industry at association meetings in the preparation of lists of surcharges and markups for certain heavy plates. I don't want to sugarcoat anything though: This is the third time after the elevator and rail cartels that we have received a hefty fine. 370 million, which we would have needed well elsewhere. I hope that every last person in the Group has finally understood that cartels are not a means of doing business, and that something like this will never happen again.

Why did we reach an agreement with the German Federal Cartel Office instead of taking legal action against the fine?

As the Executive Board, it was important to us to finally draw a line under the misconduct of the past. Of course one can argue about the amount of the fine. Because it is true that we have already done a lot in the steel sector in terms of compliance, especially in association policy, where we have, for example, reshaped the work of the committees through uncompromising antitrust law practice. This has also been recognized by the German Federal Cartel Office. Compared with the other cartel members, the amount of the fine does not represent a higher responsibility for the agreements, but follows pure mathematics the larger a Group, the higher the fine. But if we had appealed against the fine, it would have resulted in long, complex and expensive legal proceedings, with an open outcome. We have therefore reached an agreement with the German Federal Cartel Office on the amicable termination of the proceedings.

Is there anyone who will be held accountable for the fine?

The persons responsible are either no longer in the Group or have already been relieved of their duties. It is difficult to claim damages, we know this from other proceedings, but of course, our lawyers examine possibilities of recourse. But I can already tell you today for sure who will have to bear the consequences for the infringements of the past: each and every one of us! I'm reluctant to repeat myself, but that's 370 million euros that's just gone. You know how hard we are working to improve our performance, so the last thing we need is a fine.