Six French companies fined for nuclear bid-rigging

The Marcoule nuclear site is in the Gard region of southeastern France (kmaschke/CC BY-SA 2.0)
France’s competition watchdog has fined six companies a total of €31m for collusive tendering connected to work on the Marcoule nuclear site near Avignon.

The companies affected, all of which are French, are Vinci subsidiary Nuvia Process, nuclear services company ENDEL, Bouygues Construction Expertise (BCEN), design engineer SNEF, and engineer SPIE Nucléaire.

A sixth company, ONET Group, was granted leniency and an exemption from financial penalties after providing information for the investigation.

The Autorité de la Concurrence imposed the penalties after conducting dawn raids at the companies’ offices. It then accused them of exchanging commercially sensitive information relating to tenders for decommissioning work at Marcoule.

The Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) called for tenders in January 2015 with a view to setting up a framework agreement for decommissioning work. Subsequently, OTND, a subsidiary of ONET, met with ENDEL and Nuvia to exchange information on the price lists to be submitted in response to the tender.

The three were later joined by BCEN, which was also awarded a place on the framework.

The authority found that companies had broken down the contracts between them and had agreed on the prices to be offered to the client.

The watchdog said that the participants exchanged information regularly using email, text messages and physical meetings. Some participants also used personal email addresses or those of other family members.

The authority also noted that exchanges between the service providers also took place for nine other tenders that did not fall within the scope of the framework agreement.

In a statement, the authority said: “These practices are among the most serious breaches of competition rules, as they aim to remove the advantages that consumers and the public entity are entitled to expect from a competitive economy, and instead benefit the perpetrators.”

Nuvia’s penalty was €13.9m, Endel received a fine of €11m and BCEN a fine of €6.2m. SNEF and SPIE Nucléaire received lesser sanctions of €20,000 and €10,000 respectively.

The authority said it imposed a higher fine on Nuvia, Endel and BCEN as they were part of conglomerates. It also took into account the “repeated nature” of the offences committed by the Vinci and Bouygues groups.

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