As recently reinforced, companies obstructing dawn raids will be severely punished, thus competition law compliance programmes in the EU must adequately train personnel in how to deal with raids, and obstruction issues must be reinforced on the day of a raid.

On May 24, 2011, the European Commission (EC) fined Suez Environnement and its subsidiary Lyonnaise des Eaux France (LDE) EUR8 million for the breach of a seal affixed by the EC during a dawn raid at LDE’s premises. The seal was affixed at the end of the first day of the raid (in April 2010) to secure a room overnight. Upon returning the next morning, EC officials found the seal had been broken. LDE and Suez Environnement admitted that an LDE employee had breached the seal, but argued that it was an unintentional act.

Unintentional or not, the EC took a very strong line stating, “the breach of a seal is a serious infringement of EU competition law, because this undermines the effectiveness of inspections.” This is entirely consistent with its previously expressed views, not least in the infamous E.ON case from 2008, in which E.ON was fined EUR38 million for breaking a seal. In the current case, the fine, although still large, was reduced due to the cooperation of LDE and Suez Environnement.