Capping an investigation that began in 2003, the European Commission (EC) last week charged methyl methacrylate producers in a conspiracy to fix prices for the monomer, which is used to make acrylic products such as signs, lighting fixtures, and shower enclosures.
The European cartel allegedly operated between 1995 and 2003 and included ICI, Lucite International, BASF, Degussa, and Arkema--all of which confirm receiving a letter detailing the charges against them. Repsol YPF, the only other major European methyl methacrylate producer, did not say by press time whether it had been charged. The EC would only confirm that it has lodged formal charges.
According to an Arkema spokeswoman, the cartel's existence was first reported to government authorities by Degussa in 2003. Arkema, which produces the Plexiglas brand of acrylic sheet, cooperated as soon as the EC's investigation got under way."We were the second to cooperate and will get a reduction in penalties that may be assessed," she says. Under the EC's leniency rules, Degussa will likely get the largest reduction in fines.
All the firms that C&EN was able to reach pledged their cooperation in the EC's investigation, including ICI, which sold its acrylics business in 1996 to what is today known as Lucite. Many of the firms have become familiar with the exercise. BASF, ICI, and Degussa all previously paid fines for anticompetitive behavior in other chemical markets.