On 28 May 2015, the Commission announced that it has sent a Statement of Objections to Grupo Riberebro Integral S.L. and its subsidiary Riberebro Integral S.A.U. (together "Riberebro"), according to which the Commission suspects the companies of having breached EU competition rules by participating in a cartel on the market for canned mushrooms in the European Economic Area ("EEA"). Sending a Statement of Objections is a formal step in the Commission's investigation into suspected violations of EU competition rules and does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
Canned mushrooms are mushrooms sold in tins and jars, excluding fresh mushrooms or frozen mushrooms. The alleged anti-competitive conduct concerns the sales of private label canned mushrooms, i.e., mushrooms manufactured by one company to be sold under another company's brand name though tender procedures to retailers and food wholesalers, such as cash and carry companies, and professional customers, such as catering companies. The Commission has concerns that Riberebro may have colluded with its competitors to allocate customers and fix the prices of private label canned mushrooms in the EEA. Such behavior, if established, violates Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union ("TFEU"), which prohibits anti-competitive business practices.
The Commission's initial investigation into the canned mushrooms cartel started in February 2012 with unannounced inspections (so-called “dawn raids”) at the premises of four mushroom producers, namely Riberebro; Bonduelle SCA, Bonduelle SAS and Bonduelle Conserve International SAS (together "Bonduelle"); C4C Holding B.V., Lutèce Holding B.V. and Lutèce B.V. (together "Lutèce"); and Peffer Holding B.V. and Prochamp B.V. (together "Prochamp"). In June 2014, the Commission adopted a settlement decision against Bonduelle, Lutèce and Prochamp, who admitted their involvement in the cartel. The Commission imposed fines totaling EUR 32.2 million on Bonduelle and Prochamp. Lutèce was not fined as it benefited from immunity under the Commission's 2006 Leniency Notice ("Leniency Notice") for revealing the existence of the cartel to the Commission. Prochamp also received fine reductions under the Leniency Notice. Finally, the Commission reduced the fines of all three undertakings by 10 per cent because they agreed to settle the case with the Commission. The investigation against Riberebro continued under the standard (non-settlement) cartel procedure because Riberebro refused to participate in the settlement procedure. Source: Commission Press Release 28/5/2015 and Commission Press Release 25/6/2014
On 26 May 2015, European Ombudsman ("Ombudsman") Emily O'Reilly gave a speech on the emerging role of the Ombudsman in competition cases. In recent years, the Ombudsman has become a new actor in competition cases. The Ombudsman has also became another forum for those wishing to challenge the Commission's conduct in competition investigations. In her speech, the Ombudsman reviewed some of the main cases in which she has examined complaints about alleged procedural defects by the Commission and which have laid the foundations of the Ombudsman's policy.
The Ombudsman pointed out that the Commission's conduct in some of these cases could not be regarded as constituting good administration. However, she also emphasized that it is not the role of the Ombudsman to become involved in substantive legal issues or review the legality of Commission decisions. Rather the Ombudsman's role is to ensure that the Commission complies with the principles of good administration, namely fairness, impartiality, equal treatment, diligence, transparency and lack of conflicts of interest, in all of its administrative procedures. According to the Ombudsman, there are no reasons why these principles should not apply to the Commission's procedures in complex and important competition cases. Source: European Ombudsman Speech 26/5/2015
On 28 May 2015, the Swedish Competition Authority ("SCA") announced that it had submitted a summons application to the Stockholm City Court proposing that fines of nearly SEK 31 million be imposed jointly on OMX AB, the parent company of the European branch of the Nasdaq Group, and certain group companies (together "Nasdaq") for abusing their dominant position on the market for services relating to the trade of Swedish, Danish and Finnish equities. Nasdaq operates activities that include the Stockholm Stock Exchange, the Copenhagen Stock Exchange and the Helsinki Stock Exchange.
The SCA opened an investigation into the matter after receiving a complaint from Burgundy AB ("Burgundy") in December 2010. In June 2011, the SCA carried out unannounced inspections (so-called "dawn raids") at the premises of Verizon Sweden Ab ("Verizon") and Nasdaq. According to the SCA, Nasdaq employed "coercive methods" against Verizon in order to prevent Burgundy from directly linking its trade matching engine to the Verizon data center in Lunda in western Stockholm. As a result, Burgundy was forced to place its matching engine in another data center and its competitive position in relation to Nasdaq was weakened. The Verizon data center contained the matching engine of Nasdaq, as well as the trading equipment of a large number of traders. The physical location of the equipment was crucial for successful high-frequency trading because it would have made it faster and cheaper for clients to communicate with Burgundy. Therefore, the SCA concluded that Nasdaq's "coercion" of Verizon was intended to raise the entry barriers to a close competitor, and Nasdaq also achieved this object in practice. According to the SCA, companies that have previously held monopolies have a particular responsibility because they already have competitive advantages and market power. Source: Swedish Competition Authority Press Release 28/5/2015 and Swedish Competition Authority Press Release 28/5/2015
In addition, kindly note the following merger control decisions by the Commission which are published on the website of the Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition:
- Commission approves acquisition of Hypo Alpe Adria's Southeast Europe banking network by Advent
- Commission approves joint control of Corin by IDeA, IP and Hunt
- Commission approves acquisition of Averys by Equistone in industrial storage sector