Fax error costs EC €100m court case

One hundred blank sheets of paper have lost the European Commission an important legal battle

A lawyer's failure to operate a fax machine correctly has been blamed for the European Commission losing a multi-million-euro court case.

On Thursday the European Court of First Instance ruled in favour of five German banks which had been fined a total of €100m by the EC. In 2001 they had been found guilty of running a cartel to fix foreign currency exchange rates ahead of the introduction of the euro.

The companies -- Dresdner Bank, Commerzbank, HVB, Beursche Verkehrsbank and Vereignsund Westbank -- appealed this decision, and their case was concluded yesterday.

According to Friday's Financial Times, the European Court of First Instance overturned the fine because an EC lawyer who attempted to fax a 100-page document outlining the Commission's case had accidentally placed it face upwards in the fax machine.

This error meant the court received one hundred blank pages, and the actual document was not received in time. With no other legal argument from the EC, the court had to rule in favour of the five banks.

The EC press office had not returned requests for comment by the time of writing.

The incident illustrates how a failure to use technology correctly can have massive consequences, but also underlines the dangers of not moving with the times. Had the EC's documents been emailed then the EC might be a hundred million euros better off.

But email does have its own problems. Last year a number of important emails meant for Ronnie Campbell MP, including a draft copy of a speech given by Tony Blair, ended up in the inbox of Ronnie Campbell, a Cumbrian barber.