There have been a number of developments around the globe relating to cartel enforcement that I think might be of interest:
I wrote about this in an earlier post, but a billionaire businessman in Australia invited an investigation, which has now been dropped, with his comments at a business dinner griping about low prices in the market. He got himself in hot water, which never reached a boiling point, by stating he was ready to reduce output of iron ore if his competitors would do likewise. (here)
People are people and as Adam Smith noted, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
In Cambodia, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said that they were investigating a possible secret agreement between middlemen or traders in the supply chain to manipulate the price of agriculture commodities, leaving farmers with no option but to sell their products at a lower price. A spokesperson at the Ministry said traders had divided regions into zones, giving farmers no choice but to sell to that trader and at the trader’s asking price. In this case, if true, the conspiracy was to reduce the prices paid to farmers. (full story here)
On April 27th, after a seven-month trial and six days of deliberation, a jury in Ottawa found nine defendants not guilty on all 60 charges of bid rigging and conspiracy to rig bids. “Six years earlier federal prosecutors had charged 14 individuals and seven computer services firms with rigging bids in connection with more than $60 million worth of contracts at three federal departments. Now in the courtroom were six individuals and three of their firms — they had elected to be tried by a jury, the first time anyone had done so in the 39-year history of the Competition Act.” (full story here)
Also in Canada here is a helpful article on the shift in on corporate criminal liability. Corporate criminal liability can now be based on the conduct not only of senior corporate officers such as board members, but also middle managers in some circumstances.
EU Grapples with Extraterritoriality of Competition Law
Like the United States, the EU is working to define the scope of the extraterritorial application if its competition laws. The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, Melchior Wathelet, urged the court to rescind the Court’s decision that based part of a fine against Innolux based on LCD panels sold by the manufacturers to other companies and eventually shipped to the EU as components in other devices. Wathelet wrote in an opinion that: “It seems to me that, unless further evidence can be furnished that the cartel creates qualified effects in the [European Economic Area], the commission goes too far if it fines cartels relating to products manufactured and sold outside the EEA for the sole reason that those products are subsequently ‘transformed’ or incorporated into other products which (either wholly or in part) arrive in the EEA.” The opinion agreed that EU law could be applied extraterritorially to component price-fixing if the Commission had met a “qualified effects” test. Innolux’s fine stand to be cut almost in half if the Court reduces its fine in accord with the Advocate General’s opinion.
- Civil Settlement News
Civil settlements have now exceeded $270 million in federal litigation stemming from the ongoing U.S. criminal antitrust investigation into automotive supplier price-fixing (here). These settlements, however pale in comparison to the civil settlements reached in the follow-on civil suits to the air cargo price-fixing cartel. These settlements now top $1 billion (here). In fairness, the auto parts civil litigation is far from over. These figures relate only to civil settlements in the U.S. Civil damage actions, including class action suits (collective redress), are quickly spreading thoughout the globe.
- Senate Committee Launches Investigation of Dish and affiliates
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has begun an investigation of possible bid rigging between Dish and several of its smaller affiliates on a recent $3 billion spectrum auction. The investigation follows a complaint filed by Verizon with the Federal Communication Commission alleging that Dish colluded with its affiliates to violate the bidding rules as well as antitrust laws. (full story here)
Thanks for reading.
PS. Guest posts, especially about cartel/compliance related developments outside of the United States, are most welcome.