By Aditya Kalra
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s antitrust body on Wednesday conducted raids at offices of UltraTech Cement and two subsidiaries of the world’s largest cement maker LafargeHolcim, two sources close to the matter told Reuters.
Swiss-based LafargeHolcim in a statement to Reuters confirmed officials visited the Mumbai offices of ACC and Ambuja Cements and said the companies were fully cooperating with the authorities, but could not comment further as the matter is ongoing.
Several officers of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) were involved in search operations conducted simultaneously at multiple locations in India, late into the evening, the sources said, asking not to be named because of the confidential nature of the raids.
Searches were also conducted at Indian company Shree Cement Ltd, a third source said.
None of the Indian cement companies responded to Reuters requests for a comment.
The CCI did not respond to a request for comment.
The CCI does not make any details of ongoing cartel cases or raids public.
India is the second largest cement producer in the world and accounted for more than 8% of global installed capacity in 2019, figures from the India Brand Equity Foundation show. Cement sales in India stood at $9 billion in 2019-20.
India’s commerce minister Piyush Goyal last year told parliament the CCI was examining complaints of cartelisation by cement companies.
Given the impact on industry of COVID-19, the latest raids could add to the pressure, Rudresh Singh, an antitrust partner at India’s L&L Partners, said.
“There is already significant stress in the sector due to the pandemic,” Singh said.
In 2012, the CCI imposed a total penalty of $1.1 billion on several cement companies for colluding to under-use their plants and create an artificial shortage of cement. An appeal against that decision is still pending.
In recent years, the CCI has raided offices of other foreign companies, including beer giant Carlsberg and commodities trader Glencore on allegations of price collusion in their industry.
(Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Aditi Shah; editing by Barbara Lewis)