French supermarket chain Carrefour SA could be fined up to 500,000 yuan ($80,100) for misleading customers over prices at one of its outlets in northwestern China, state news agency Xinhua said on Sunday.
Dai Wei, vice president of Carrefour China, has apologized for the "price gouging", or charging higher prices at the check-out than were advertised on the shelves, and has agreed to a accept punishment from the pricing bureau in the city of Taiyuan in Shanxi province, Xinhua said, citing Song Jianhu, an official at the bureau.
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Xinhua said last week inspectors had found that one of Carrefour's stores was engaged in price gouging.
"The outlet was also found to have used misleading advertising, failed to provide accurate information regarding sales and allowed goods to be produced in areas that were inconsistent with the company's specifications," Xinhua said.
Carrefour, the world's No.2 retailer, will be fined between 50,000 and 500,000 yuan, Xinhua said.
Officials at Carrefour could not be reached for comment. Xinhua quoted Carrefour as saying in a written statement that the incident was an individual case and an unintentional mistake.
Carrefour would strengthen management at its two outlets in Taiyuan, Xinhua quoted Carrefour executive Dai as saying. Employees responsible for price gouging will be dealt with seriously, the agency said.
Qiao Xudong, the Taiyuan store's public relations manager, told Reuters last week that the municipal pricing bureau was investigating the firm, but denied intentional mis-pricing and said no official conclusion had yet been drawn.
"We are actively cooperating with the price bureau on the investigation and will look into the matter thoroughly," he said. "But as a company which deals with thousands of products, you cannot guarantee that there won't be any mistakes at all, that would be unrealistic."
In January last year China fined Carrefour and U.S. rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc in a similar case over price manipulation.
Carrefour, which has over 200 stores in China, was forced to temporarily close one of its stores in March after state media reported the chain was passing off regular chicken as free-range.
In February, Wal-Mart named a new head of its China operation, which had been tainted by food scandals including a pork mislabeling issue in 2011 that forced the company to temporarily shut a dozen stores in central China.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by David Holmes)