Chile regulator accuses Cencosud, Wal-Mart, SMU of price-fixing
By Anthony Esposito
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile's competition regulator on Wednesday accused supermarket chains Cencosud CEN.SN and SMU SMU.SN and the local unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N: Quote) of participating in a price-fixing scheme involving fresh chicken.
It was the second time in three months that the regulator, FNE, said it had uncovered a price-fixing scheme affecting consumers, and a member of the Christian Democrat party, part of the ruling Nueva Mayoria political coalition, said such behavior must be punishable with jail time.
The FNE said it is looking to fine each company $22.9 million for their alleged participation in the scheme.
The FNE said the supermarket chains "knowingly adhered to a common scheme that replaced the risks of competition with shared practical cooperation in order to regulate the market and avoid price wars."
It accuses the supermarket chains of "having participated in an agreement to fix, through their suppliers, a minimum selling price for fresh chicken, at least between 2008 and 2011, restricting competition in this market."
At the end of 2011, Cencosud, SMU and Wal-Mart had a 92.5 percent market share of Chile's supermarket sector, the FNE noted.
Cencosud and SMU both said they had not been officially notified of the accusation and had no immediate comment. Wal-Mart was not immediately available to comment.
Cencosud's shares closed down 2.28 percent. Continued...