Hoffmann-La Roche of Switzerland was singled out as the ringleader and ordered to pay 462 million euros ($406 million), by far the biggest fine the European Union's competition authority has ever levied against a single company. BASF of Germany, which was also found to have helped coordinate the cartels, was fined 296 million euros ($260 million).
Both companies have also been fined by United States and Canadian agencies in connection with the same activities.
''This is the most damaging series of cartels the commission has ever investigated,'' said Mario Monti, the union's competition commissioner. ''The companies' collusive behavior enabled them to charge higher prices, allowing them to pocket illicit profits. It is particularly unacceptable that this behavior concerned substances which are vital elements for nutrition essential for normal growth and maintenance of life.''
Roche said in a statement that it had set up a training program for its staff ''to reinforce its commitment to conducting business in full compliance with all local and international laws.'' It also said that a team in its internal auditing department would make sure the company complied with antitrust rules.
Roche and BASF were found to have been involved in all 12 separate cartels. Investigators said Takeda Chemical Industries of Japan and Merck of Germany joined them in rigging the market for vitamin C for human consumption; Rhône-Poulenc of France, now part of Aventis, joined them in the markets for vitamins A and E used in animal feed and vitamin D3.