Norwegian-based international seafood company Marine Harvest, owned by industry tycoon John Fredriksen, was fined NOK 166 million (EUR 20 million) by the European Commission on Wednesday for breaking competition laws. Marine Harvest was punished for acquiring competing fishing business Morpol without authorization under EU merger rules, but the company argued it had done nothing wrong and may appeal the verdict.
“Marine Harvest is a large European company with wide previous experience and familiarity with EU merger control rules,” the commission stated in a press release. “The Commission therefore concluded that Marine Harvest should have been aware of its obligations to notify the acquisition of Morpol and obtain clearance before closing the transaction, and that its failure to comply with these obligations amounts to negligent conduct.”
The commission found the 48.5 percent stake in Morpol that Marine Harvest acquired in December 2012 in effect gave it control over Morpol. It carried out the acquisition eight months before formally giving notification, which the commission said changed the market structure and would have made it considerably harder for the commission to restore effective competition, if the merger had been rejected. “Any infringement of these obligations is serious, since it undermines the very essence of EU merger control,” stated the release.
The fine could have been up to NOK 1.9 billion, 10 percent of Marine Harvest’s 2013 turnover. While the commission did not go that far, it did state that it viewed the company’s infringement as “particularly serious” because Marine Harvest’s original proposal needed to be changed significantly before it was eventually approved in September 2012. Wednesday’s verdict would not have any impact on the approval, reported TDN Finans.
“Marine Harvest remains of the opinion that it acted in accordance with the requirements of the exception applying to public takeovers in its acquisition of Morpol and thus disagrees with the Commission on the applicability of a fine,” the company stated in a release on Wednesday afternoon. “Marine Harvest made it clear to both the market and Morpol that no control would be taken before the acquisition had been cleared by the EU.”
The company objected to the size of the fine, saying it was significantly larger than similar cases considered by the commission. “Marine Harvest will now carefully consider the options available to it,” the release said. “It appears, however, more likely than not that the decision to fine the company will be referred to the EU courts.”