The latest EC cartel fining decision, handed down on 11 December 2014 and relating to envelope producers, contains several lessons for companies active in the EU. Not the least of these is that, as promised, under new Competition Commissioner Vestager, the EC’s competition directorate will continue to prioritise its fight against cartels in the EU.
An interesting particular point from the case is that there was no whistleblower. Instead, the EC started on its own initiative the investigation that led to the fines. The EC is keen to undertake such investigations to demonstrate to cartelists that there are a number of ways in which cartels can be identified and to destabilize them further.
Further, the case shows that in an acquisition a company takes on any cartel liability of the target. One of the cartelists had gone into liquidation after the cartel had ended and some of its entities/assets were purchased by a competitor. That competitor, also a cartelist in its own right, thereby gained liability for the activities of the liquidated business, and its total fine was increased as a result.
The risk of cartel fines remains very high in the EU, both at the EC and national levels. Companies should make sure that suitable compliance programmes are in place, that training is carried out and, ideally, that internal audits are undertaken.