On March 29, 2013, South Korea’s antitrust watchdog, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office raided the office of POSCO ICT, a subsidiary of POSCO that manages the parent company’s IT network, as part of an ongoing investigation of South Korea’s biggest steelmakers. Approximately 10 investigators conducted the search and seizure, which included collection of e-mail archives, internal reports and transaction documents. A representative for the law enforcement agency indicated that the raid was conducted to secure certain data and that it currently had no plans to raid additional companies.
That said, this raid follows a probe initiated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of several steel producers for alleged price fixing of galvanized sheet iron, color steel sheets, and cold-rolled plates. Last year, the Fair Trade Commission alleged that the steel companies regularly had meetings to collude with each other on prices for these products. The FTC also alleged that Dongbu, the largest supplier, increased it prices first and the others followed and that this price increase indicated a pattern of price fixing. In December 2012, South Korea’s Supreme Prosecutors’ Office fined several of these steel producers, including Posco C&C, Hyundai Hysco, Dongbu, SeAH Steel and Union Steel, a combined fine of $291.7 billion. The FTC had investigated these entities since 2009 and has been investigating the steel industry since as early as 2005.
Just one month ago, Germany’s Federal Cartel Office (“GFCO”) raided the offices of three steelmakers, Voestalpine, ThyssenKrupp, and ArcelorMittal, as part of its antitrust investigation into illegal price agreements between steel suppliers in the automotive industry.
The announcement of these raids demonstrates the ongoing nature of these investigations and the ability law enforcement agencies around the world have to leverage and coordinate their antitrust investigation with other global agencies.