Whistleblowers dodged $10 billion in EU cartel fines in past 16 years

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FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Companies that alerted European authorities to cartels in the last 16 years dodged 10 billion euros ($9.97 billion) in potential fines, EU antitrust regulators said on Tuesday as they announced efforts to encourage more whistleblowing.

Launched in 1996 and revised several times since then, the European Commission’s leniency programme offers the first company that reports wrongdoing total immunity from fines while those that subsequently come forward with evidence can get discounts up to 50%.

Businesses operating in the European Economic Area that have cooperated since 2006 have experienced fines decreasing by 16 billion euros, while immunity applicants have experienced a 10 billion euro decrease and reduction of fines applications have received a 6 billion euro decrease, the Commission said in a statement.

It said the total amount of fines imposed during the same period was 15 billion euros. The EEA includes the 27 EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Making it even easier for whistleblowers to test the water before committing themselves to the procedure, the leniency programme allows companies to start informal talks with the EU competition enforcer without disclosing their names and the sector they are in.

They can also make a hypothetical application with details of wrongdoing to see if they qualify for reduced fines.

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Two officials have been appointed as points of contact for whistleblowers.

($1 = 1.0029 euros)

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Josie Kao)