Greek court upholds £23m fine for Heineken over market abuse

An appeals court has upheld a multi-million fine against Heineken imposed by the Hellenic Competition Commission (HCC), after it found the Dutch brewer’s Greek subsidiary to have abused competition laws in the country for the past 16 years.

Athenian Brewery is Heineken’s Greek subsidiary, selling Alfa, Amstel and Heineken

In December 2015 the Athenian Brewery, which is 98.8% owned by Heineken, was fined €31.5m (£25m) by the HCC following a 12-year investigation into its practices within the Greek market, eventually finding it in breach of Greek and EU competition law having abused its “dominant position” for nearly two decades.

In a statement released on 1 December 2015, the HCC said Heineken’s Athenian Brewery, which sells Alfa, Amstel and Heineken in Greece, had infringed on the Competition Act and 102 EU Treaty by implementing a “single and targeted policy that sought to exclude its competitors from the on-trade consumption market (e.g. HORECA chains and other retail outlets) and to limit their growth possibilities, over a period of fifteen years”.

At the time, Heineken called the ruling “unfair” and said it “categorically denies the commission’s claims”, and that it would appeal the fine.

However this week The Administrative Court of Appeal in Athens upheld the ruling, albeit reducing the fine from €31m to €26.7m (£23m), agreeing with the substance of HCC’s judgement – that the Athenian Brewery had unfairly squeezed out competitors through exclusivity agreements, forcing publicans to stock Heineken brands.

In a statement issued to the drinks business John-Paul Schuirink, director of global communications, corporate affairs, for Heineken said: “HNV [Heineken N.V] is aware of the decision of the Administrative Court of Appeal in Athens against Athenian Brewery. Athenian Brewery is currently reviewing that decision and considering its next steps.”

One brewery to have welcomed the decision is the Macedonian Thrace Brewery (MTB), which accused Heineken of “long-standing market manipulation”.

“The competition authority and now the appeals court has reaffirmed the full extent and intensity of Heineken’s breaches of antitrust regulations in Greece,” said Demetri Politopoulos, co-founder of MTB, whose biggest beer brand is Vergina lager.

“Due process has triumphed despite Heineken’s disingenuous refusal to accept responsibility and their unrelenting efforts to overturn a sound decision. Heineken’s long-standing market manipulation must now give way to fair competition and Heineken must compensate those who have been materially damaged, including MTB.”

Following the HCC’s initial ruling in 2015, MTB lodged a separate lawsuit against Heineken seeking damages in excess of €100m before the Court of Amsterdam, with this latest appeal court judgement likely to stregthen its case.

“Greece will only succeed economically with a free and fair market that encourages investment and healthy competition,” added Politopoulos. “This kind of market abuse has no place in our country. We believe that ultimate responsibility for years of market abuses lies at Heineken’s head office in Amsterdam which is why we have sued both Heineken and Athenian Brewery in the Netherlands, to finally get to the root of this problem.”

In response to this separate case, Schuirink added: “It is correct that earlier this year Macedonian Thrace Brewery has initiated separate legal proceedings against Athenian Brewery and Heineken N.V. before the Amsterdam Court. Pending these legal proceedings Heineken N.V. will refrain from providing any further comments regarding this matter.”

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