KLM, Martinair given summonses in price fixing case: lawyer

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A group of European companies that includes Ericsson and Philips served papers on airlines KLM and Martinair Thursday, asking the carriers to respond to charges in a multi-million-euro suit for fixing freight prices, a lawyer said.

"Summonses were served on KLM and Martinair in Amsterdam today, and will follow for Air France as soon as the original documents have been translated into French," the complainants' Dutch-based lawyer Martin van Maanen told AFP.

On Wednesday, lawyers said a group of more than 300 companies from 11 EU member states were suing Air France-KLM and Martinair for more than 500 million euros (680 million dollars) in what they said was the "largest cartel damages claim ever in continental Europe."

The claimants, which include major names in the pharmaceutical, automotive, electronics, food and fashion industries, say they were overcharged about 10 percent on international air freight prices between 2000 and 2007 because of an illegal price-fixing agreement between airlines.

Air France-KLM, formed from a 2004 merger of the Dutch and French national carriers, and KLM offshoot Martinair are alleged to have been part of a cartel of 22 airlines involved in the practice.

Lawyers said they chose the Netherlands to pursue the case because of "reasonable" litigation costs and a good chance of success under Dutch law, which holds that one member of a proven cartel is liable to pay damages for all its members.

KLM, Martinair and Air France, through its links with KLM, were then chosen as the main defendants because of their ties to the Netherlands, said Van Maanen.

The airlines may choose to sue other members of the cartel to help them pay any damages awarded by the court.

Van Maanen said the suit would be registered with the Amsterdam district court on March 30, 2011, after which it could take several months before oral arguments were heard.

The airlines declined to comment.

© 2010 AFP

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