S. Korea fines German automakers for colluding to curb emissions-cleaning technology

By Hyunsu Yim

SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea's anti-trust regulator said on Thursday it would impose a combined fine of 42.3 billion won ($33.48 million) on three German automakers for colluding to curb emissions-cleaning technology for their diesel cars.

Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen and Audi were involved in collusion that reduced competition and restricted consumer choice, the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said in a statement.

Mercedes-Benz was fined 20.7 billion won, BMW 15.7 billion won and Audi 6 billion won, the regulator said, adding that Volkswagen was not fined because it did not earn revenue relevant to the issue.

Mercedes-Benz said the company had cooperated fully with the KFTC and "will not have to pay any fine," citing the outcome of a similar probe by the European Commission.

"The case related to the same set of facts which has been subject to the European Commission's proceedings and where Mercedes-Benz acted as a leniency applicant and did not have to pay a fine," a Mercedes-Benz spokesperson said in a statement.

"At no point were agreements or an exchange of information on prices, volumes or market sharing part of the investigation," the spokesperson added.

The KFTC declined to comment on Mercedes-Benz's statement.

BMW, Volkswagen and Audi were not immediately available for comment outside business hours.

Last year, Mercedes-Benz and its Korean unit were fined 20.2 billion won for false advertising tied to gas emissions of diesel passenger vehicles.

The European Commission in 2021 fined Volkswagen and BMW a total of 875 million euros for colluding to curb the use of emissions-cleaning technology they had developed. Mercedes-Benz, then called Daimler, was also part of the cartel but not fined after revealing its existence.

($1 = 1,263.4200 won)

(Reporting by Hyunsu Yim; Editing by Jamie Freed)