Three brewers have been slapped with fines totalling over EUR270m (US$367.5m) after being found guilty of cartel activities in Holland.

The European Commission announced today (18 April) that Heineken, Grolsch and Bavaria will have to pay EUR273.8m for their parts in a cartel in the Dutch beer market between 1996 and 1999. In 2005, the Commission's antitrust authorities claimed that the brewers had fixed prices, allocated customers and exchanged commercially-sensitive information between themselves in Holland.

While Heineken was hit hardest, with a EUR219.3m fine, Grolsch was told to pay EUR31.58m, while Bavaria was fined EUR22.9m. InBev, meanwhile, escaped a fine for blowing the whistle on the cartel to the Commission.

"It is unacceptable that the major beer suppliers colluded to hike up prices and carve up the market between themselves," said Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. "The highest management of these companies knew very well that their behaviour was illegal, but they went ahead anyway and tried to cover their tracks."

The Commission said that it has evidence that, in all four companies, high-ranking management, including board members, the managing director and national sales managers, participated in the cartel meetings and discussions. "There is also evidence that the companies were aware that their behaviour was illegal and took measures to avoid detection, such as using a panoply of code names and abbreviations to refer to their unofficial meetings and holding these meetings in hotels and restaurants," the Commission added.

When contacted by just-drinks today, a spokesperson for the Commission said: "Our investigations into the cartel began in 2000 on the initiative of the Commission, but also thanks to InBev, who provided us with further information about the cartel."

Grolsch has said that it is "stunned" by the ruling, and noted that it plans to take further legal action. Heineken were not prepared to comment on the fines at this time, while no-one at Bavaria was available for comment.

The Commission spokesperson noted that the brewers will be able to appeal to the European Court of Justice over the fines. "Then, it will be in the hands of the courts," she concluded.