Significant enforcement activity
The Competition Markets Authority (CMA) has recently stepped up enforcement, with its decision to fine three construction firms a total of more than £36 million for an infringement of UK and EU competition law. With this in mind, it’s important to consider how cartel behaviour is defined in the UK and the defences available.
Individuals residing abroad should not assume they are beyond the reach of antitrust authorities, as illustrated by the extradition of a former air cargo executive from Italy to face charges of price-fixing in United States. This announcement serves as an important reminder for global businesses that enforcement of antitrust laws can occur well beyond the borders of the United States.
The Federal Cartel Office (FCO) has handed out hefty fines in relation to supplements and surcharges on purchase of steel products. Businesses should review their practices in relation to price components (particularly surcharges) in light of this decision, especially as there has been continuing enforcement from the FCO in this area.
Any business which fails to comply with competition investigations will face strict penalties, as a company recently found out after it was fined €1.84 million by the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). During the course of a dawn raid, some of the company’s employees had deleted WhatsApp group chats, which according to the ACM amounted to an obstruction of its investigation.
The European Court of Justice (CJEU) in a recent judgement allowed a cartel damage claim for remote economic loss. This significant judgment is likely to encourage parties who allegedly suffered indirect losses as a result of a cartel to seek compensation from alleged cartelists.
What can businesses and individuals do?
It’s important for businesses to proactively consider any risk they face and manage by taking appropriate action.
Last year, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) Antitrust Division announced an increasing emphasis on corporate compliance programs which remain the first line of defence against such risk.
Admission of participation in a cartel may provide immunity and individuals or businesses that self-report involvement in cartel activity may also be able to get a reduction in penalties.
Several competition authorities offer immunity and leniency programmes including the CMA, FCO, ACM, the US DoJ Antitrust Division and the European Commission.
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