On 26 November 2014, the EU General Court (GC) (the EU’s second-highest court) upheld a EUR2.5 million fine imposed by the European Commission (EC) for obstructing an EC dawn raid. The case shows the crucial importance of properly training staff, including IT staff, in advance so they know what to do if a dawn raid happens.
The case concerned Czech companies Energetický a průmyslový holding (EPH) and its subsidiary EP Investment Advisors (EPIA), which had been fined in 2012 for failing to block an email account and diverting incoming emails during a dawn raid in 2009. The GC confirmed that the EC was right to consider both of these incidents serious breaches of EPH and EPIA’s obligation to cooperate with the EC during the raid. In line with previous case law, the GC held that the incidents constituted an obstruction in themselves; the EC did not need to show that any document was actually removed or manipulated.
The judgment sends a clear message to companies that any steps that undermine the integrity and effectiveness of EC dawn raids, including tampering with data stored electronically, are illegal and will be sanctioned. The position is similar in the case of raids by EU Member State competition authorities, and companies of all sizes with EU operations should take note.
This is not the first time the EC has fined a company for obstructing a dawn raid. In 2008, the EC fined German energy company E.ON EUR38 million for the breach of a seal during an inspection. The EC’s decision was confirmed by the GC in 2010 and subsequently by the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2012.