CNMC, the Spanish Competition Authority, has imposed a fine of EUR 59.67 million on 12 companies providing maintenance and management services for the country’s national highway networks. The firms were found to have manipulated tenders for road maintenance and operation services of the State Road Network between 2014 and 2018. In addition to the fines, the companies involved have been banned from participating in government contracts.

Spain: Point-system highway maintenance providers’ cartel

The cartelists developed a point system, under which tenders were organised into groups, with common criteria for the submission of bids within each group. Points were allocated to each group of tenders, which were then ‘spent’ by the companies depending on the level of discount on the contracting budget. Following a formula designed by the cartel, offering higher discounts meant ‘spending’ more points.

In this way, the cartel limited the number of contracts to which an individual company could offer a high discount, thereby encouraging the cartel members to focus their efforts on winning a limited number of tenders. For the remaining procurements, the same companies offered bids with little to no chances of winning, which turned them into fictitious offers.

The cartelists also agreed on a threshold of discounts for the fictitious offers and committed to submitting bids in all the tenders in each group, thereby manipulating the average price of the offers submitted for the tender as well as hindering the possibilities of non-cartel members. This sophisticated system was adapted to subsequent changes in the contract specifications launched by the public administration.

According to the CNMC, the total value of tenders won by the cartel members exceeded EUR 530 million, which amounts to 63% of the total budget granted by the Ministry of Development for the maintenance and management of the national motorway network. In total, the companies participating in the cartel were awarded 70% of the State Road Network tenders during the infringement period. Therefore, the anticompetitive practices of the companies most likely had a damaging impact on the public budget.

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