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MasterCard Sued by Sainsburys, Deutsche Bahn Over Card Fees

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MasterCard Inc., already facing at least 12 U.K. lawsuits after European Union regulators outlawed cross-border card fees, was sued by Deutsche Bahn AG and J Sainsbury Plc.

The German state rail company’s case, filed in a London court on Dec. 18, has over 21,000 other claimants spread across five separate corporate groups. They’re suing over “unlawful interchange fees,” Nicola Boyle, a lawyer at Hausfeld LLP representing the groups, said in an e-mail Dec. 20.

The EU antitrust agency said in 2007 that MasterCard’s fees for cross-border card payments violated antitrust rules, unfairly inflating what retailers pay to process payments. In May, the Purchase, N.Y.-based company lost a bid to overturn the EU decision. It’s appealing the ruling to the bloc’s highest court.

J Sainsbury, the U.K.’s third-largest supermarket company, filed a separate suit against MasterCard in London on Dec. 19 over interchange fees, Tom Parker, a spokesman for the grocer, said in an e-mail.

Philipp Bruechert, a MasterCard spokesman in Brussels, declined to comment as the company hasn’t formally received the lawsuits yet.

Six British retailers, including the owner of the Topshop clothing chain, filed similar suits in October. They followed five other retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Asda and the U.K.’s fourth largest grocer, William Morrison Supermarkets Plc, who filed lawsuits in May claiming “anti-competitive conduct,” according to court documents.

The fees cost stores about 25 billion euros ($33 billion) a year, according to a May statement by EuroCommerce, a group representing European retailers. The second-biggest card network, supported by banks such as HSBC Holdings Plc and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, has said the so-called multilateral interchange fees were crucial for sharing the costs of debit and credit-card payments. Visa Inc. is the world’s biggest electronic-payments network.

Visa and MasterCard won preliminary approval last month in the U.S. for a $7.25 billion accord to end a merchant fee price- fixing case. More than 7 million retailers may be eligible to sign up for the deal, which is the largest-ever antitrust settlement. Opponents to the deal lost a bid this month to appeal the judge’s authorization. A final approval hearing is set for September.

A spokesman for Deutsche Bahn didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The case is: Deutsche Bahn AG and 21441 other Claimants v. MasterCard Incorporated in the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, case no: HC12E04911

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