By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS (Reuters) - France's competition authority on Thursday fined six home appliance makers a total of 189 million euros ($214 million) for price-rigging in 2006 and 2009, the largest penalty it has handed out so far this year.
Whirlpool , Electrolux , Bosch's BSH unit , Indesit, Candy Hoover and Eberhardt Frères were fined for agreeing price increases on washing machines, fridges or ovens, the competition authority said.
Since these firms account for 70 percent of the French household appliances market, the cartel had a major impact on prices paid by retailers and consumers, Isabelle de Silva, who heads the Autorite de la Concurrence, said.
The companies did not contest the fines and some even apologized to regulators for their behavior, de Silva said.
The ruling found the companies colluded on sales prices to retailers in 2006 and in 2009 on the sidelines of official meetings of their federation the GIFAM, and in chic Parisian restaurants such as La Duree or Corona Imperial.
The fines were the result of a probe started in 2012 after whistleblowers contacted French authorities.
De Silva said she wanted the government to offer "some kind of reward" to whistleblowers, as happens in other countries.
WHIRLPOOL GETS BIGGEST FINE
Whirlpool paid the biggest fine of 56 million euros while the Indesit entity - which was later bought by Whirlpool - got a separate 46 million euros fine.
Electrolux was fined 48 million euros, Candy Hoover 15 million and Eberhardt Freres 1 million euros.
BSH's fine was cut by 70-80 percent from its initial amount down to 23 million euros after it helped with the inquiry.
Electrolux said in a statement that its fine was below the provision of 54 million euros it had set aside.
The total fine is the biggest imposed by the antitrust body in 2018. The biggest penalty imposed so far was 951.2 million euros in 2014 on a beauty products cartel.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Alexander Smith)