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MAINZ, Germany — Beer companies in Germany woke up to a $150 million hangover Monday when five breweries and seven people were fined for illegally fixing prices by the country’s cartel office.
In secret phone calls and private meetings the breweries agreed to raise the cost of the amber nectar by five to seven Euros ($7 to $9.50) per hundred liters of beer, according the Federal Cartel Office known as the “Kartellamt.”
"While we have seen this type of manipulation with other consumer products, it is the first case in Germany's beer industry," Kay Weidner, a spokesman for Germany's anti-trust authority told NBC News.
The country's Federal Cartel Office told Reuters on Monday that unlisted brewers Bitburger, Krombacher, Veltins, Warsteiner and Privat-Brauerei Ernst Barre GmbH as well as seven individuals in the industry received fines as part of a settlement agreement.
"In 2008, a price increase was agreed for bottled beer with the intention of making the 20 bottle crates one euro more expensive," Andreas Mundt, the head of the German anti-trust authority said in a statement.
"The key witness in this case was the German division of Belgian based beer giant Anheuser-Busch," Weidner said. "In half of the cases that we deal with, our investigations are based on testimonies from key witnesses," he added.
Sure to provide a bitter aftertaste to beer lovers is the fact that the cartel office also said that further investigations are under way against two national and four regional German breweries.
The country is Europe's biggest producer of beer and has the third-largest per-capita consumption after the Czech Republic and Austria.