The Serious Fraud Office ("SFO") has confirmed that it has concluded its investigation into Sports Direct Plc and JJB Sports Plc, with no charges being brought against either party.
The SFO is responsible for prosecuting cases of serious and complex fraud. However, it also has responsibility for prosecuting individuals for cartel offences under the Enterprise Act 2002.
The SFO investigation, which commenced in September 2009, resulted from a referral by the Office of Fair Trading ("OFT"). The OFT had received a "whistle-blowing" leniency application from JJB Sports in January 2009 in relation to an agreement to dampen competition in the retail sports market, to which it had been party. The application, relating to the period from mid-2007 to early-2009, resulted, in OFT officers visiting the offices of both JJB Sports and Sports Direct.
Even though Sports Direct and JJB Sports will not be prosecuted by the SFO, the OFT investigation into anti-competitive practices within the retail sports market is ongoing. However, JJB's timely approach for leniency should ensure that they may receive immunity from any OFT fine.
The SFO have also confirmed that the investigation into certain individuals is continuing. JJB Sports' employees, however, will have the comfort of knowing that they will have conditional immunity from criminal prosecution under the Enterprise Act 2002.
So, while the SFO's latest press release may give those in question some level of comfort, the competition authorities would still appear to have Sports Direct and JJB Sports firmly in their sights.