Digger manufacturer JCB has reached the end of the road in its six-year battle to overturn a multi-million pound fine for alleged breaches of European competition regulations.
The Staffordshire-based company yesterday expressed "extreme disappointment" after the European Court of Justice upheld the 30.9 million euros (£21 million) penalty imposed by the European Commission in 2000.
The ECJ had ignored bureaucratic errors on the part of the European Commission going back more than 20 years, it said.
It believes the fine, which stemmed from the implementation of a dealer agreement that the company says was notified to, and approved by, the European Commission between 1975 and 1995, is "totally unjustified".
The background to the case is that in 1973, following the UK's accession to the Common Market, JCB was one of the first British companies to comply with European competition law and apply for exemption of all of its distribution agreements.
The company says it amended those agreements on the advice of the Commission and was led by the Commission to believe they were in order.
In 2000, however, the Commission rejected JCB's application for exemption even though it had been renewed in 1980 and 1995.
JCB appealed against the judgement and in 2004 the European Court of First Instance upheld its appeal on a number of counts and reduced the the original 39.614 million euros fine by 25 per cent.
It later appealed to the ECJ to have all of the charges quashed - an appeal which has now been dismissed.
JCB said the court agreed with them that the 27-year delay by the Commission was "regrettable" and breached the C ommission's obligation under European law but it said that the company's fundamental rights had not been breached.
It claimed that at no time did the Commission identify the economic impact of the infringements in setting the fine, which was on "a vastly inflated scale compared with those imposed on certain car manufacturers".
John Patterson, JCB managing director and chief executive, said: "We are very frustrated indeed that, after six years of pursuing this action in the courts, the European Court of Justice has ignored the failings of the Commission and found against us."
A company spokesman said later: "We have reached the end of the road. We cannot take this any further."