THE EUROPEAN Commission has fined Volkswagen Ecu101 million ($93 million) for breaking European competition laws. This is the highest fine ever imposed by the EC against a single company.
The EC said Volkswagen illegally prevented some of its Italian VW and Audi dealers from selling cars to people from outside Italy.
The commission started investigating VW in 1995 after 36 Austrians complained that Italian dealers refused to sell them cars. The Austrians intended to buy the cars and import them to Austria, where the cars are more expensive. The practice is legal and explicitly protected by EU law.
'We have authorized our Italian dealers more than once to sell cars to consumers from any country,' said VW spokesman Hans-Peter Blechinger.
'They were also allowed to sell cars to regular Volkswagen and Audi dealers,' he said. 'We only forbade them to sell to independent, free dealers.'
In a statement VW said the fine was 'incomprehensible' and 'out of proportion.'
Competition Commissioner Karel Van Miert said the fine reflected the fact that VW:
Started its policy in 1987.
Ignored EC warnings to stop.
Bullied its Italian dealers.
Carried out a 'systematic, covert operation endorsed by management.'