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EU cartel busters raid cement firms

BRUSSELS, Sep 23 – European Union inspectors carried out raids on cement firms in Spain on suspicions of a price-fixing cartel, the European Commission announced on Wednesday.

Commission officials carried out the searches, which began on Tuesday, along with officers of the Spanish competition authority.

There was "reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated … antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices," the EU\’s competition watchdog said in a statement.

An EU Commission spokesman said the raids "were connected" to similar action carried out in November 2008 but in line with normal practice, he did not name the companies involved.

Last year, cement giants Lafarge of France, Cemex of Mexico, Holcim of Switzerland and HeidelbergCement and Dyckerhoff of Germany all acknowledged that they were targetted by that probe.

In 1994, the EU executive arm fined over 40 companies for secretly carving up the cement market among themselves.

Construction along Spain\’s Mediterranean coast has proceeded at a lightning pace to meet the demands of mass tourism and one study late last year showed that more than a quarter of the coastline is now under concrete.

However cement sales plummeted last year after the decade-long housing and construction boom foundered as the international credit crunch hit tourism and property sales.

The commission stressed that the latest raids on the cement and related products sector "does not mean that the companies are guilty" and there was no deadline for the enquiries to be completed.

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