After almost two-and-a-half years of investigation, on March 8 2013 the Competition Board announced the outcome of its high-profile investigation against 12 Turkish banks, including three state-owned banks, private Turkish banks and numerous international banks operating in Turkey.
Finding that the defendants had infringed competition laws through a collusion to harmonise their trade terms for cash deposit interest, credit and credit card fees, the board levied turnover-based monetary fines against all 12 of the investigated banks, at different rates and nominal values. These rates varied between 1.5% and 0.3% of the defendants' 2011 turnovers.
The total fine amounted to an unprecedented TRY1.1 billion (approximately $670 million or €481 million) and broke a number of records in the process. It is the highest fine in the Competition Authority's enforcement history, more than quadrupling the previous record. It is also the highest fine ever imposed on a single undertaking - a fine of TRY213 million (approximately $127 million or €92 million) was levied from Garanti Bankasi, one of the biggest private Turkish banks, more than doubling the previous record fine of TRY92 million, which was levied in 2011 against Turkcell, the leading Turkish GSM operator.
Furthermore, the decision single-handedly surpasses the sum of all fines imposed in the history of Turkish antitrust enforcement. Before this case, 189 investigations had resulted in total cumulative fines of TRY865 million. This single case exceeds that total by almost 30%.
For six of the banks, the finding of a violation was unanimous; for the other six, the decision was taken by a majority. The Competition Board apparently refused to set the basic level of the fine between 2% and 4%, which is the base rate normally applicable to cartels, subject to aggravating and mitigating circumstances. By doing so, the board acknowledged that the violation did not constitute a cartel.
By quadrupling its record for the highest fine ever imposed in an investigation in Turkey, the Competition Authority arguably demonstrated that it will not be intimidated by the level of monetary values. However, it is questionable whether this investigation truly called for such a rigid approach, and review by the administrative courts may therefore be called for.
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