AFP PHOTO / LINDSEY PARNABY/FILES
AFP PHOTO / LINDSEY PARNABY/FILES

New Delhi: India’s Competition watchdog The Competition Commission of India (CCI) in its two-year long probe has found that units of Tata Steel, Sweden’s SKF and Germany’s Schaeffler colluded on the pricing of bearings, according to a Reuters’s report.

This, if proven could open the companies to potential fines. It is alleged that five companies colluded on bearings prices from 2009-2014 to pass higher raw material costs onto customers in the auto sector.

The CCI can fine the firms involved up to three times the profit made in each year of wrongdoing or 10% of revenue, whichever is higher. European Union antitrust regulators fined SKF, Schaeffler and three Japanese auto parts makers $1.3 billion in 2014 for taking part in a bearings cartel from 2004 through 2011, the report said.

In a report dated May 6, which has not been made public, CCI’s investigations arm said that it analysed company emails, call records and executive testimonies and concluded that SKF India, Schaeffler India, National Engineering Industries and Tata Steel’s bearings division contravened antitrust law by discussing and agreeing prices.

SKF, the world’s largest maker of ball-bearings, said in a statement it had assisted the investigation and disputed any claim of wrongdoing, Reuters said.

Schaeffler did not respond to a request for comment, while Tata Steel and National Engineering Industries - part of Indian conglomerate CK Birla Group - declined to comment beyond saying the CCI proceedings were confidential.

The investigation arm’s 106-page report said it found no evidence against the fifth firm, ABC Bearings, part of U.S. firm Timken Co. ABC Bearings declined to comment.

The report also showed the investigations arm considered the collusion lasted through the financial year to March 2011, but found no evidence to indicate when it actually ended, Reuters said.

The four firms, “through personal meetings of key persons, on two occasions shared the strategic information regarding their future efforts to seek price increase from” auto sector companies, the investigations arm said.

The CCI did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. A person with direct knowledge of the matter said senior CCI officials are reviewing the report and that the antitrust body can still dispute the findings of its investigation arm.

The Indian market for bearings, which reduce friction in moving parts, is worth $1.3 billion and dominated by SKF and Schaeffler, ICRA Research data shows.

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