Belgian competition watchdog exposes bid rigging in Fire Protection sector

Sarhan Basem
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Brussels (Brussels Morning) – Belgium’s competition watchdog finds Ansul, Somati Fie, and Sicli guilty of bid rigging in fire protection contracts. It violated competition laws for over seven years, resulting in fines and compensatory measures for affected parties.

Which companies rigged fire protection bids in Belgium?

Belgium’s competition watchdog has blamed three large players in the fire protection sector for rigging bids on public contracts. The Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) has specified that fire protection companies Ansul, Somati Fie and Sicli have been violating competition laws for more than seven years, as they exploited the public procurement process for contracts concerning the sale, hire and/or supervision of fire extinguishers and hose reels

How long did the bid-rigging scheme last?

From 2009 and 2016 the Ansul/Somati Fie company and Sicli group created a cartel, dividing up new public agreements among themselves to maintain their historic customers. They did this by withholding from bidding on certain contracts or offering ‘cover’ bids that were intentionally priced more increased to be less attractive than another tender. In its decision, the BCA discovered that the practices in question malformed competition in the provision of fire protection benefits in Belgium, and infringed Belgian and European competition rules.

‘Particularly regrettable’ to target contracts involving public safety

Prosecutor General of the BCA, Damien Gerard, stated the bid rigging was “particularly regrettable” given the vital nature of the products in question for assuring public safety, the targets of the cartel (including schools, municipalities, service centres, social housing and public transport divisions), as well as how long the practices went on.

“What is positive is that the companies involved have recognised the seriousness of the facts and the Ansul/Somati Fie group has taken the initiative of proposing a system of compensation for the victims,” he stated.

What penalties did the companies face for bid rigging?

The companies admitted their participation in the infringement and carried the terms of a settlement offered by the BCA’s investigation and prosecution service. The BCA handed down a penalty of €2.2 million to the Sicli group, but the group was given a drop of 50% due to its partnership with the investigation.

Meanwhile, the Ansul/Somati Fie group was given immunity from penalties for being the first to report the issue to the BCA under the leniency programme. In its conclusion, the BCA also took into account the Ansul/Somatie Fie group’s performance to compensate customers who were sufferers of the infringement.

Six individuals were involved and were given immunity from prosecution in the case. The BCA stated that any companies wishing to convey their knowledge of or participation in a cartel, and potentially get immunity from fines or a decrease in the penalty incurred, are invited to contact the BCA prosecutor general.

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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.