EU court adviser rebuffs Deutsche Telekom's fight for interest on antitrust fine


A man carrying his computer passes by the logo of German telecommunication company "Deutsche Telekom" at the ITS World Congress 2021, a fair for intelligent transport systems, in Hamburg, Germany, October 13, 2021. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - An adviser to Europe's top court on Thursday said judges should dismiss Deutsche Telekom's bid to get EU antitrust regulators to pay interest on the reimbursed portion of a fine imposed nearly a decade ago.

A number of companies have recently demanded that antitrust enforcers pay default interest on fines in annulled antitrust cases. Intel is the most high profile case with a claim for 593 million euros ($646.8 million) in interest on a reimbursed fine of 1.06 billion euros.

Deutsche Telekom's case dates from 2014 when the European Commission fined the German telecoms operator 31 million euros for charging unfair wholesale prices in Slovakia with its Slovak unit to squeeze out broadband rivals.

Deutsche Telekom challenged the fine at the Luxembourg-based General Court, Europe's second highest, which cut it to 19 million euros in 2018, forcing the EU competition enforcer to repay the difference.

Deutsche Telekom returned to the court after the EU competition enforcer refused to pay interest for the period between the payment and the reimbursement and got judges to back its fight. The Commission then appealed to the Luxembourg-based EU Court of Justice (CJEU).

CJEU advocate general Anthony Michael Collins sided with the Commission, saying judges should do the same because of the General Court's legal errors.

"In February 2019, the Commission complied with the 2018 judgment by refunding that part of the fine that had been annulled. It follows that the only default interest that the Commission might be liable to pay relates to the period as between those two dates," he said in a non-binding opinion.

"In so far as the General Court, in the judgment under appeal, established an obligation to pay default interest in respect of a period prior to the date of the delivery of the 2018 judgment, it erred in law."

The CJEU, which follows four out of five such recommendations, will rule next year.

The case is C‑221/22 P European Commission v Deutsche Telekom AG.

($1 = 0.9168 euros)

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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