In accordance with general principles of administrative procedural laws, the Hungarian Competition Authority ('HCA') is time barred from initiating an investigation against any undertaking after the lapse of the five-year limitation period since the undertaking has ceased the infringement.
The HCA launched cartel proceedings against a group of undertakings in relation to which the general five-year limitation period had not lapsed, but decided, later on, to extend its investigation to another undertaking in relation to which the five-year limitation period had, in fact, expired. The investigation resulted in a finding of infringement and all the investigated undertakings were fined.
The undertakings challenged the HCA decision on different grounds, including, for the latter undertaking, the lapsing of the limitation period. The Supreme Court of Hungary eventually confirmed the decisions of the lower courts and found that the Hungarian Competition Act required that the limitation period be calculated separately for each of the undertakings brought under investigation. Consequently, the HCA should not have been allowed to extend its case against and impose fines on the said undertaking.
In response to this court decision, the Hungarian Competition Act was amended upon the initiative of the HCA, and now states that the limitation period does not continue to run to the benefit of undertakings brought under the scope of the investigation at a later stage. The new rule regarding the limitation period in cartel cases in Hungary comes closer to the European approach, whereby the launching of an investigation against any of the cartelists stops the running of the limitation period for all the undertakings investigated; irrespective of when they were brought under the scope of the investigation.