Hello Kitty owner fined by European Union for restricting cross-border online sales

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The Japanese company behind the iconic Hello Kitty character was fined by European Union authorities Tuesday for restricting cross-border online sales of products featuring the cartoon cat.

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The EU’s antitrust commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said that Sanrio Co. was fined $7 million because the company violated the bloc’s competition rules with licensing agreements that banned traders from selling merchandise in different countries in the bloc.

The commission discovered the Japanese company’s illegal practices were in effect for 11 years until December. The European Union launched a probe into the company, as well as Nike and Universal Studios, in 2017.

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The investigation found that consumers in the European Union’s single market couldn’t get the Hello Kitty-based products -- such as mugs, toys and rugs -- for less in other countries in the bloc.

"Consumers, whether they are buying a Hello Kitty mug or a Chococat toy, can now take full advantage of one of the main benefits of the Single Market: the ability to shop around Europe for the best deals," Margrethe Vestager, the competition commissioner, said in a statement.

Sanrio cooperated with the investigation from Tokyo, the commission said. Sanrio said Wednesday the fine will be recorded as an extraordinary loss in its fiscal first-quarter financial statement.

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"Sanrio fully accepts the European Commission's decision and remains committed to enforcing and enhancing our compliance program," it said in a statement.

Hello Kitty, the mouthless cartoon cat girl, was created in 1974 and is recognized as a global icon. Sanrio said she can be found on 50,000 branded products sold in 130 countries. The company also owns the right to other animated characters, including the “Little Miss” series.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.