The Office of Fair Trading ("OFT") has confirmed that an individual has been charged under Section 188 of the Enterprise Act 2002 (the "Cartel Offence") for his involvement in a suspected steel tanks cartel. The individual, Peter Nigel Snee, was charged earlier this month and appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court yesterday.
The charge follows an OFT investigation into suspected cartel activity in the supply in the UK of galvanised steel tanks for water storage. Mr Snee is facing the charge that, between 2004 and 2012, he dishonestly agreed with others to fix prices, rig bids and divide customers in respect of the supply of the galvanised steel tanks. If convicted, he could face up to 5 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
The businesses involved in the alleged cartel are subject to a separate civil investigation. If they are found to have infringed the competition rules, they could each face fines of up to 10% of turnover.
This is the first prosecution to be announced since the OFT's flagship case against certain British Airways executives collapsed back in May 2010. It is therefore an important case for the OFT (and, come April 2014, the Competition and Markets Authority) in terms of its own credibility and that of the Cartel Offence itself.
It is also worth noting that, whilst dishonesty is a requirement of the Cartel Offence at present, this requirement will be removed when the relevant sections of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 come into force later this year. This change will not affect the prosecution of Mr Snee. It should however be a source of some concern for individuals engaged in cartel activity as the removal of the dishonesty requirement should (in theory) make it easier for the Competition and Markets Authority to prosecute individuals and secure convictions for cartel activities in the future.