A calculation error of Competition frees Repsol and Cepsa from two millionaire fines

The Supreme Court has annulled two million-dollar fines to Repsol Y Cepsa because the National Commission of Markets and Competition (CNMC) let the procedure expire. The contentious-administrative judges explain that too much time passed between the initiation of the procedure against both companies for sharing information and strategy on gas stations, and the end of the sanctioning process. The fine imposed on Repsol was 20 million euros and that of Cepsa was 10 million euros.

The process, as concluded by the Supreme Court, expired for one day. It should have been completed on February 24, 2015 and the companies were notified a day later.

Both companies were investigated by the CNMC and sanctioned in february 2015 along with Disa, Galp and Meroil. According to Competition, they all reached agreements and exchanged information to share the market in terms of service stations and gas stations. In one of them, for example, there was a non-aggression pact between Cepsa and Repsol at two gas stations in Zaragoza.

Both Cepsa and Repsol took the case to the third chamber of the Supreme Court after the National High Court already demanded that the CNMC recalculate the fines. But now the magistrates are studying the deadlines and understand that the Commission let the procedure expire because too much time passed between the opening of the process and its conclusion.

The legal term is 18 months, as established by the Competition Defense standard, and the judges also take into account that the process was suspended for 26 days while information was exchanged with the European Commission. The sentence explains that, once this expiration has been established, it is not necessary to examine whether the sanctions were legal or not and if there was indeed a non-aggression pact: "Once the expiration is appreciated, any other pronouncement on the other issues raised is unnecessary," says the Supreme.

The judges had set out to resolve a legal question: when did the expiration periods begin to run when one of these cases is suspended to send information to the European Commission. If since when the suspension agreement is signed or since when that information is actually sent.

The Supreme Court analyzes the case file and concludes that the CNMC sent information to the European Commission in December 2014 without signing any agreement to suspend the sanction procedure. It was already on December 23 when the process was suspended on November 19. That agreement, however, did not have retroactive effects, it was issued "without it being possible to grant them retroactive effects" according to the Supreme Court and by the time it was lifted, 26 days had passed and the process had expired.

The judges do the math: the maximum completion date was February 24, 2015 and the resolution of the sanction was notified a day later. Although it had been signed a few days before, according to the Supreme Court, the date of notification is the date that "must be taken into consideration for the purposes of calculating the expiration period."

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