Dutch authorities raid KPN, T-Mobile and Vodafone in mobile cartel probe

The Dutch competition authority NMa raided the offices of KPN Mobile, T-Mobile Netherlands and Vodafone Netherlands earlier this week as they investigated possible cartel practices in mobile services. Vodafone Netherlands then said in a statement that is has not seen persuasive evidence that its employees acted improperly with regard to operating a pricing cartel in the Dutch market.

A spokesman for KPN told the Financial Times that the NMa has been specifically investigating "concerted practice with regard to mobile telecoms offerings on the Dutch consumer market," as well as "the division of independent sales channels." A number of unnamed individuals employed by the three operators have been questioned and their homes searched as the NMa examines price-fixing deals for mobile telephony and Internet services.

The raid by the NMa appears to have been triggered after a former director and a board member at a Dutch mobile operator revealed details of a price-fixing agreement. According to the Financial Times, a person close to the investigations said that the NMa is looking at the pricing of mobile data bundles for customers using prepaid phones.

While Vodafone failed to comment initially, KPN and T-Mobile Netherlands confirmed the visit and said that it was "confident about the positive outcome of the investigation."

However, Vodafone has since issued a press statement claiming that it will continue to cooperate with the NMa, but that it has not currently seen convincing evidence of wrong-doing by its local staff. "Currently, Vodafone has not seen convincing evidence of improper conduct by our staff," Vodafone said in a statement. "We have fully cooperated with the investigation of NMa will continue to do so."

KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile have been previously charged with engaging in cartel activities, when evidence emerged that in 2001 that they had been exchanging information about subsidies for retailers of mobile handsets. In late October the NMa announced it would fine the companies. KPN agreed to pay €7.93 million, T-Mobile agreed to pay €4.59 million and Vodafone agreed to pay €3.71 million in fines. However, these fines were a dramatic reduction from the initial ruling on the matter in 2002 when the three operators were fined a total of €88 million.

For more:
- see this Financial Times article (sub. req.)
- see this Dow Jones Newswires article (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article
- see this Vodafone Netherlands press statement (translated via Google Translate)
- see this Dutch News article

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