On 10 October 2016 the Competition Protection Commission of Bulgaria (“CPC”) announced that it had accused six petrol and diesel retailers of forming a cartel on the fuels market. All six companies are accused of violating Article 15 of the Bulgarian Protection of Competition Act and Article 101 of the TFEU by participating in a prohibited agreement and/or concerted practice for exchange of pricing information, information about sales volumes and other market information, as well as by implementing a common pricing policy.
The probe was launched earlier this year after the CPC adopted a sector analysis which showed that the retailers had kept their prices high for long periods of time and failed to react in a timely fashion to the changes in the input costs of fuels.
Next steps: each of the accused companies shall be entitled to submit written objections and to present a defensive thesis in an open hearing before the CPC. Following that the CPC will issue its final decision on the case. If the CPC finds an infringement of the PCA, it may impose a fine in the amount of up to 10% of the aggregate annual turnover of the infringer(s) in Bulgaria in the previous financial year(s). The decision of the CPC may be appealed before the Supreme Administrative Court by the parties concerned.
On 13 October 2016 the CPC gave a press conference in which it stated that it had solid evidence supporting the allegations, that the infringement probably started in 2012, and is continuing. The CPC would reasonably expect to impose sanctions on the companies concerned in its final decision. However, the CPC offered these companies an option of leniency – providing that any of them self-reports itself and hands over appropriate evidence. In return, the company could be offered either total immunity from the payment of a fine or a reduction in the level of the fine.