Colombian agency sanctions 12 domestic sugar companies for collusion

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The Colombian antitrust authority recently sanctioned Colombian sugar companies and industry groups after finding them guilty of creating a cartel to block imports of sugar from other regional countries.

Colombia's Superintendency of Industry said this week that it sanctioned three sugar-producer associations and 12 sugar-cane companies for their efforts “in a coordinated way for several years to obstruct Colombian sugar imports from Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica."

The agency also sanctioned 14 high-level Colombian sugar-industry executives for having “cooperated, facilitated, authorized or tolerated the anti-competitive practices sanctioned."

The agency imposed a fine equivalent to $135 million, which “does not exceed 7 percent of their annual operational revenue, nor 7 percent of their equity." When it imposed the fine, the agency took into consideration that some of the cartel participants already had been found guilty in another case in 2010 of creating illegal coalitions to limit prices paid to sugar-cane growers.

The sanctioned sugar-producer groups are Asocana, Ciamsa and Dicsa.

"The accusations by the Superintendency to the industry are false," Asocana said separately in a statement. "In the case of Asocana, it was fully demonstrated that imports were never obstructed, and the receipts of imports by the industry were attached. Those imports were made throughout the years, back to the start of the investigation.”

The Superintendency said it started the investigation in 2010 “at the request of several businesses that were consumers of sugar which they used as a raw material." A preliminary investigation was completed by 2012 when the formal final investigation began.

The final investigation ended with a recommendation by the appointed investigators to the country antitrust superintendent to declare the existence of a Colombian sugar cartel and to sanction those accused.

The coordination by the participants in the cartel “exceeded their rights of association” and free enterprise, the superintendency said.

The companies investigated had “deliberately blocked sugar imports to Colombia to keep supply from increasing so that the internal prices for sugar paid by the industry would be lower,” the superintendency said.

The agency said the companies involved also set up organizations to acquire production from regional sugar producers outside of Colombia to make sure those sugar volumes were sold elsewhere and would never make their way into Colombia.

The Colombian sugar companies involved also made illegal accords with sugar producers in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala and El Salvador so that they would not sell any sugar directly to Colombian entities that needed to buy sugar as a basic raw material.