By Paul Hayes

PERTH, WA: The Federal Court has handed down $9.2 million in fines to an air conditioning cartel operating in Western Australia.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the cartel was involved in bid-rigging and price fixing on projects valued at $129 million.

The massive size of the fine handed down, combined with the project values involved, made this the largest trade practices case ever run in Western Australia, said the ACCC.

The cartel’s activities affected the supply and installation of air conditioning and mechanical services in WA.

The ACCC began proceedings in December 2004 against 17 companies and 22 individuals.

“The ACCC is pleased these proceedings have been concluded,” said ACCC chairman, Graeme Samuel.

“This is a timely reminder to businesses who may be tempted to engage in illegal cartel conduct that the ACCC will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute those involved in such conduct.”

Samuels also warned that harsher anti-cartel penalties will soon be enforced.

“Given recent amendments to the law, individuals who are involved in serious cartel conduct of the type subject to these proceedings now face the prospect of criminal prosecution and the risk of imprisonment for up to 10 years.”