The European Commission today fined 14 firms a total of €169m in four separate cases involving price fixing in the air freight transport sector.

Swiss firm Kuehne und Nagel was hit with the steepest fine of €53m. Freight giants Schenker of Britain and US company UPS were also fined.

Deutsche Post, which participated in the price fixing schemes through subsidiaries DHL and Exel, was offered immunity as it was the first company to report the infractions.

The companies were held responsible for aligning pricing along several key routes between 2002 and 2007, the commission said.

In one of the schemes, companies organised secret meetings under the auspices of a gardening club, the EU's Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said. The participants used "code names based on names of vegetables", Almunia told reporters in Brussels.

"Individual consumers or businesses suffered from this," Almunia said adding that "in times of crisis, it is all the more important to stamp out the hidden tax that cartels impose on our economy".