The automotive fuel distribution sector in Spain has in recent years been the subject of several investigations by the antitrust authority (the Comisión Nacional de la Competencia (CNC)). In addition, complaints about the sector are regularly made to the CNC.

In May 2013, the CNC, expressly justifying its actions by reference to this background, started an investigation into several automotive fuel distribution businesses. This was followed, on 30 July 2013, by the opening of formal proceedings against six companies, alleging anticompetitive behaviour in the fuel supply and fuel distribution markets (including price coordination and the exchange of sensitive commercial information).

This case shows that companies need to consider the repercussions not only of an antitrust authority’s sectoral investigations but also of customer complaints, particularly in high-profile and politically sensitive markets. Business practices affected by such investigations or complaints should be checked carefully for compliance with the law, so that if an investigation is started, the company is not put at risk of sanctions.