EUROPEAN COURT REDUCES COMMISSION’S LARGEST EVER FINE

carglassOn 27 March 2014, the European Court announced its decision to reduce from €880 million to €715 million, the fine imposed for cartel activity upon subsidiaries of the Saint-Gobain Group and its parent company. The fine had been the largest ever imposed by the European Commission, for participation between 1998 and 2003 in the car-glass cartel. In 2008 the Commission fined four car-glass makers €1.3 billion for participating in a cartel between 1998 and 2003.

Saint-Gobain had been the subject of previous Commission decisions relating to similar infringements in 1984 and 1988. The 2006 Fining Guidelines give the Commission the power to increase fines by 100% for repeat offending, even if the infringements took place long before the existence of the cartel in question. In this instance, the Commission increased Saint-Gobain’s fine by 60% for earlier violations.

However, the European General Court decided that, for repeated infringement to count as an aggravating circumstance, the infringements must have been committed by the same undertaking. Since the 1988 decision concerned a different subsidiary of the same parent, it was decided that a finding of repeated infringement applied only to the 1984 decision. The Court pointed out that the passage of a long period of time since the adoption of an earlier decision may make it more difficult, if not impossible, for the parent company to contest the circumstances upon which a finding of repeated infringement was based.

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About Michael O'Kane

Michael O’Kane is a partner and Head of the Business Crime team at leading UK firm Peters & Peters. Described as ‘first-rate’ (Legal 500 2012), he “draws glowing praise from commentators” (Chambers 2013) for handling the international aspects of business crime, including sanctions, extradition and mutual legal assistance. Called to the Bar in 1992 and prior to joining Peters & Peters he was a senior specialist prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service Headquarters(CPS). At CPS HQ he was a key member of a small specialist unit responsible for the prosecution of serious and high profile fraud, terrorist and special interest criminal matters including the Stansted Airport Afghan hijacking and the prosecution of Paul Burrell (Princess Diana’s butler). Michael joined Peters & Peters in 2002. He became a partner in May 2004, and Head of the Business Crime team in May 2009. Since joining Peters & Peters, Michael has dealt with a wide range of business crime matters. He has particular expertise in international sanctions, criminal cartels, extradition, corruption, mutual legal assistance, and FSA investigations. Described as“ an influential practitioner in fraud and regulatory work, so much so that he is top of the referral lists of many City firms for independent advice for directors” (The Lawyer’s Hot 100 2009), he was recognised as one of the UK’s most innovative lawyers in the 2011 FT Innovative Lawyer Awards and included in the list of the UK's leading lawyers in 'The International Who's Who of Asset Recovery 2012. In 2012 he was the winner of the Global Competition Review Article of the Year. Michael regularly appears on television and radio to discuss his specialist areas and he is the author of the leading textbook on the UK Criminal Cartel Offence “The Law of Criminal Cartels-Practice and Procedure” (Oxford University Press 2009). Recent/Current Sanctions Work • Representing 109 individuals and 12 companies subject to designation by the European Council under targeted measures imposed against Zimbabwe. This is the largest and most complex collective challenge to a sanctions listing ever brought before the European Court. • Acting for a former Egyptian Minister and his UK resident wife, challenging their designation by the European Council of Ministers under targeted measures brought against former members of the Egyptian Government. • Advising a company accused in a UN investigation report to have breached UN sanctions imposed in relation to Somalia. • Advising a UK company in relation to ongoing commercial relationships with an Iranian company listed under both EU and UN sanctions. • Advising an individual in relation to a UK investigation for alleging breaching nuclear export controls.

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