Last week's news that the European Commission (EC) suspects six of Norway's top salmon producers of breaching antitrust rules has already led to severe financial consequences for the companies in question.
If the firms are found guilty of breaching the antitrust rules, the EC could impose heavy fines of up to 10% of each company's annual worldwide turnover.
However, the companies under investigation are already taking a significant financial hit due to the allegations.
According to Norwegian financial newspaper Finansavisen, four of the companies, Mowi, SalMar, Lerøy Seafood Group and Grieg Seafood, saw their Oslo Bors stock market values plummet NOK 13.3 billion in just two hours on Thursday afternoon.
Since the news emerged, speculation has mounted regarding the scale of the possible fines imposed by the EU if the companies are found to have broken the trading rules.
The exact level of the fine will depend not only on the percentage of annual worldwide turnover determined by the EC (up to a maximum of 10%), but on which year is used for this calculation.
The EC has plenty of time during which to conduct its probe, noting that there is "no legal deadline" for it to complete its antitrust inquiries.
The timeline also depends on the companies in question, who have the right to reply in writing, and to defend themselves through an oral hearing.
The companies under investigation have strenuously denied any wrongdoing.
For example, SalMar said on Thursday it "strongly disagrees" with the EC's preliminary assessment regarding an alleged breach of competition law.
Grieg Seafood also issued a statement saying it "denies any anti-trust infringements or anti-competitive behavior by it or any of its subsidiaries" and that it would exercise its right of defence.
Meanwhile, Mowi said it did not violate the antitrust rules and will respond to the EC notifcation after a careful review.
Lerøy Seafood Group made a similar statement, saying it "strongly rejects" the EC's preliminary assessment.
The EC's written statement of the objections raised against the companies, sent out last week, is the first formal step in the legal process.
According to the EC rules on investigations into antitrust and cartels, the companies can now "examine the documents in the Commission's investigation file, reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present their views on the case before representatives of the Commission and national competition authorities".
"If the Commission concludes, after the parties have exercised their rights of defence, that there is sufficient evidence of an infringement, it can adopt a decision prohibiting the conduct and imposing a fine of up to 10% of a company's annual worldwide turnover," the EC noted.