In a judgment described by the EC as “very important”, on Sep. 9, 2011, the EU’s General Court confirmed the strict duties of cartel leniency applicants to comply with the EC’s rules on cooperation and secrecy during the course of an investigation. The case concerned Italian tobacco processor, Deltafina, which had been the first to tell the EC about a cartel and should therefore have obtained full immunity from any resulting fines.
After making its application, and before the Commission could carry out dawn raids to find evidence against the other cartelists, Deltafina revealed to its main competitors in a trade association meeting that it had sought leniency. This, according to the EC, put the entire investigation at jeopardy. The final decision therefore included a fine for Deltafina. The General Court confirmed that this was correct since Deltafina had violated the duty of confidentiality it owed to the EC. This case is another warning that the EC will be very strict about procedural violations affecting its investigations. It follows a series of cases in which companies have been fined or investigated for alleged obstructions to dawn raids and other procedural issues.