Guilty verdict of vodka cartel case annuled
The Estonian vodka maker Liviko and several major retail sellers accused of a cartel agreement between participants in the alcohol supply chain of Estonia in 2009 got out of the case on Wednesday by the decision of the Tallinn circuit court because according to the second-tier court the accused were falsely prosecuted and by now the alleged offenses have expired.
The circuit court found that the decision made by the Harju county court on April 29, 2015 has to be annuled because of a major breach of criminal procedural law and the criminal proceeding has to be stopped as a result of the limitation period expiring.
The county court on June 11, 2014 prosecuted all the defendants before receiving defense documents as well as before the August 11 deadline for all the defendants to get a chance to improve the defense documents. By doing that the county court significantly breached the criminal procedural law, as a result of which the decision was annuled.
Procedural expenses of the defendants have to be paid by the state from the state budget.
The decision can be appealed in 15 days.
The Harju county court on April 29, 2015 punished the vodka maker Liviko with a fine of 1,276,000 euros of which 127,600 euros must be paid immediately and the rest is conditional punishment with one-year probation. Prisma Peremarket, a leading retail chain, was fined 1,156,000 euros on similar terms, with 115,600 euros to be paid immediately.
Fines on similar terms, meaning that the rest of the fine will expire if no new offense is committed during one year, were meted out to the retail chains Rimi Eesti Food AS, for whom the size of the fine is 3,584,000 euros of which 358,400 euros must be paid immediately, to Maxima Eesti OÜ, 1,907,000 euros of which 190,700 euros must be paid immediately, and Selver AS, 2,956,000 euros of which 295,600 euros must be paid immediately.
Likewise, private individuals Kart-Ragnar Kits and Ivar Grossev were fined 29,400 euros and 16,485 euros respectively, of which one-tenth must be paid immediately and the rest is conditional with a one-year period of probation.
Fines on similar terms were meted out to Rando Galin, who was fined 10,206 euros, Hallar Rank, who was fined 9,540 euros, Tiiu Valk, who was fined 27,135 euros, Vaido Padumae, who was fined 11,100 euros, and Marko Krusberg, who was fined 2,655 euros.
In the trial that started on October 27, 2014 all the indicted parties, as well as 11 physical persons linked to the companies, pleaded not guilty.
According to the charge sheet, the concerted action by competing businesses to the detriment of consumer interest was raising the price of vodka of the lower price segment to at least 63.50 kroons (EUR 4.06) for a standard half-liter bottle with 40 percent alcohol content in 2009.
The court set the fine for Liviko at 1.5 percent of annual sales on the grounds that Liviko's guilt was bigger than that of the other defendants. Since Maxima's guilt was found to be smaller, the rate of fine for Maxima is 0.75 percent of annual sales. For the rest of the legal persons found guilty the fine equals 1 percent of their sales in 2009.