On 30 September 2015, the Competition College of the Belgian Competition Authority ("the College") imposed a fine of EUR 50,000 on the press group Sanoma Media Belgium ("Sanoma") for impeding a merger control investigation.
As part of the merger control investigation into the acquisition of some of its magazine titles by De Persgroep, Sanoma had to respond to an information request. On the day of the deadline, Sanoma provided some market information but indicated that it did not have related market studies.
However, on the last day of the time limit for the case team to complete the investigation, Sanoma sent important documents, including a market study dating back to 2012 and an accompanying presentation. Considering that such negligence amounts to an infringement of Article IV.71, §1 of the Belgian Code of Economic Law, the case team requested the College to impose a fine on Sanoma. The College found that Sanoma manifestly impeded the investigation because the information was provided so late and the case team could not take it into account.
When calculating the amount of the fine, the College used the 2014 Belgian Fining Guidelines. The basic amount was set taking into account the 2014 Belgian turnover from the sale of the magazine titles forming part of the transaction with De Persgroep, but adjusted for the following mitigating circumstances:
- the fact that Sanoma spontaneously provided the information at stake, which justified a reduction of 5% of the basic amount;
- the absence of precedents at the Belgian and EU level; and
- the fact that it was the first time that the 2014 Fining Guidelines were applied in such a case, which justified another reduction of 1 to 5% of the basic amount.