The European Court of Justice (Case C-469/15 P) has dismissed the appeal brought by banana importer Pacific Fruit group against a General Court judgment of 2015 (case T-655/11). Today’s judgment fully confirmed the assessment of the General Court, and in particular endorsed the admissibility of evidence transmitted to the European Commission by the Italian finance police (Guardia di Finanza).
In October 2011 the Commission imposed a fine on Pacific Fruit group for participating with Chiquita in a price fixing cartel for fresh bananas in three EU Member States (Greece, Italy and Portugal).
As part of its cartel investigation, the Commission received copies of documents from the Italian finance police. The EU Court of Justice agreed with the General Court and the Commission that these documents could be used as evidence in proving the cartel. The Court confirmed the admissibility of documents transmitted by national authorities other than competition authorities, as long as this transmission has not been declared unlawful under national law. The Court also confirmed that the rules on cooperation between authorities in the European Competition Network would not prevent the Commission from using information transmitted by other national authorities than the competition authorities purely on the ground that that information was obtained for other purposes.
The EU Court of Justice also found that the General Court had carried out a detailed review of the fine imposed on Pacific Fruit Group and that the General Court was right to consider that the Commission was fully entitled to state that the infringement could be characterised as a restriction of competition by object, without assessing effects.
The Commission found that two main banana importers, Chiquita and Pacific Fruit, participated in a cartel between July 2004 and April 2005 in violation of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. The cartel members coordinated their price strategy regarding future prices, price levels, price movements and/or price trends and exchanged information on future market conduct regarding prices.