A few months ago the Serbian Competition Commission announced its intent to commence conducting dawn raids for the first time since this authority was envisaged in the Competition Act. Not long after the announcement, the Commission followed through on its promise, and entered the office premises of an electronic cigarettes retailer.
This seems to be but a single step in the Commission’s efforts to intensify antitrust enforcement. Not long after the first dawn raid, two new proceedings regarding cartel-like arrangements were initiated (in private medical care and edible oil industries). Unfiled mergers seem to be on the agenda as well and a Ferrero Group member was the first to discover this after allegedly failing to file a merger resulting from acquisition of assets in privatization proceedings.
The number of initiated proceedings by the Commission and the manner in which they are conducted, indicate two long-term trends. First of all, the Commission is committed to increase its monitoring of the market, and is showing willingness to act where a probable cause occurs. Moreover, statutory enforcement tools which have not yet been implemented in Serbia (e.g. dawn raids and leniency programs) are being introduced with an increasing intensity, catching unprepared market participants off guard.
What should be kept in mind is that, while dawn raids as such are not an uncommon competition enforcement tool in the EU, there is good evidence to suggest that the regulatory framework under the Serbian Competition Act is both unconstitutional and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). There has even been a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights which declared that dawn raids without a court warrant in a regulatory framework, almost similar to the Serbian one, are considered to be illegal under the ECHR.