Sainsbury's, Asda Admit to Price-Fixing

J Sainsbury and Asda, Wal-Mart's British supermarket unit, have admitted joining with other companies in fixing the price of dairy products in Britain, the Office of Fair Trading said Friday.

Also admitting liability were Safeway, now owned by Morrisons; Dairy crest; The Cheese Company, and Wiseman, the agency said.

The companies agreed to pay penalties totaling more than 116 million pounds (162 million euros, $235 million), the agency added.

"These parties have all admitted involvement in certain of the anti-competitive practices identified by the OFT ... and have undertaken to cooperate fully with the OFT in its investigation, including providing further evidence as far as reasonably possible," the agency said.

"Each party will receive a significant reduction in the financial penalty that would otherwise have been imposed on it, on condition that it continues to provide full cooperation," the agency added.

It said it would continue proceedings against Tesco, Britain's largest supermarket group; Morrisons and Lactalis McLelland.

Sainsbury, Britain's third-largest supermarket group, confirmed that it had agreed to pay 26 million pounds (36 million euros, $53 million) to settle the case.

"We are disappointed that we have been penalized for actions that were intended to help British farmers, but recognize the benefit of a speedy settlement with the OFT," said Justin King, Sainsbury's chief executive.

"The price initiatives in 2002 and 2003, which were widely and publicly reported at the time, were designed to help British dairy farmers at a time of considerable economic pressure and public debate about whether farmers were getting a fair price for their products."