Paris (AFP)

Secret meetings in hotels, repeated phone calls ... Twelve ham and charcuterie manufacturers were ordered to pay a total of 93 million euros on Thursday for price agreements between 2010 and 2013.

The strongest penalty (35.5 million euros), made public Thursday by the Competition Authority, targets the French leader in pork production, the Cooperl cooperative, which has six sites involved in the manufacture of cured meats.

This is followed by the distribution group Les Mousquetaires (Intermarché, Netto), which also manufactures products under its own brands such as Monique Ranou (31.7 million euros fine), and the Fleury Michon group (nearly 14.8 million fine).

Cooperl and Fleury-Michon will appeal the decision, they said at midday.

"The manufacturers concerned (the + pork butchers +) coordinated to buy cheaper pieces of ham from the slaughterers and / or also agreed on the price increases for the pork products that they intended to practice with the brands of the mass distribution, for their private labels ("private label" or "first price"), "said the Competition Authority in a press release.

"The agreements concerned very many everyday consumer products (raw ham, cooked ham, sausages, rosette, chorizo ​​...)", he added.

In the case of the agreement on the price of the raw material, "the pork-butchery workers contacted each other by telephone before the start of negotiations with the slaughterers, generally on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, in order to reach a common negotiating position ", describes the Authority.

Regarding the prices offered to large retailers, "these exchanges took place, in the case of raw / dried sausage products, through multiple bilateral telephone exchanges as well as during at least six secret multilateral meetings between competitors in hotels from Paris and Lyon, "she adds.

- A "manipulation", according to Cooperl -

The practices uncovered "were notably revealed thanks to the leniency procedure, which allows companies having participated in a cartel to disclose its existence to the Authority and to obtain, under certain conditions, the benefit of a total or partial exemption from financial penalty ", specifies the Authority.

"In the present case, two groups, Campofrio and Coop, applied for leniency and provided materials for the investigation," it said. They were nevertheless sanctioned, up to one and six million euros respectively.

Campofrio's leniency request, which notably markets the Aoste and Jean Caby brands, dates back to October 2012.

In a press release, the Cooperl denounces a "manipulation".

"This decision punishes in an extremely heavy way a cooperative group on the basis of elements as false as slanderous which were created from scratch by a competing group", affirms the cooperative of the Great West.

She considers the accusation "based on a single document", the notebook of the commercial director of the Aosta company, according to her "a forgery both in form and in substance" which "constitutes the instrument of a veritable judgment scam ".

In its decision, the Authority states that there is "no reason to question the physical authenticity of the notebook".

For its part, the Fleury Michon company "regrets that the Autorité de la concurrence has not taken into account the information it has provided in its defense" and "deplores all the more the decision of the Autorité de la competition that the financial penalty is particularly heavy and affects a weakened sector. "

The Authority says it has, "to determine the amount of the sanctions (...) in particular taken into account the existence of the strong bargaining power of the signs of the large distribution - which limited to a certain extent the effect of the practices on consumer prices - the deteriorated economic situation of the cured meats sector, as well as the individual financial difficulties encountered by certain companies ".

This is not the first time that the pork sector has been in the crosshairs of the Competition Authority. On February 13, 2013, the latter had fined five Breton slaughterhouses for 4.5 million euros for having "reduced their pig slaughterings in a coordinated manner" in 2009 in order to lower the price of meat paid to breeders .

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