In July 2009 the Competition Protection Commission initiated procedures against the largest retail chains in Bulgaria – Metro Cash & Carry EOOD, Billa Bulgaria EOOD, Kaufland Bulgaria EOOD, Picadili AD, Maksima Bulgaria EOOD and Hit Hypermarket EOOD – for suspected prohibited practices. The procedures were opened after the commission received several indications from the Bulgarian Confederation of Employers and Industrialists that the chains were engaged in anti-competitive activity.
The first phase of the procedure lasted almost two years and ended on February 8 2011 when the commission submitted a statement of objection to the retail chains. According to the commission, the retail chains had indirectly exchanged sensitive information regarding:
- prices which had been agreed between the respective chains and their common suppliers; and
- the chains' marketing strategies.
The retail chains coordinated their policies by applying vertical agreements for fixing supply price levels, discounts and taxes for using store space. Following the investigation, the parties now have 60 days to respond to the commission. The retail chains have the right to be heard in an open hearing session.
In the second phase of the procedure, the retail chains (either separately or together) may offer to make commitments which will lead to the termination of the violation. The commission may approve such commitments and issue a decision for termination without finding a violation of the Competition Protection Act only in relation to violations which are found to be non-serious (ie, the violation has no appreciable and permanent effect on competition on the substantial part of the national market).