RUSSIA LAUNCHES CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION INTO CEO AFTER POTASH GIANT WITHDRAWS FROM CARTEL

Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee said on 14th October 2013 that it had opened an investigation into Vladislav Baumgertner, CEO of potash producer Uralkali, on suspicion of abuse of power. Russian authorities confirmed that they would be seeking Mr Baumgertner’s extradition from Belarus, where he is currently under house arrest on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power.

The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation outlaws cartel agreements under Article 178, imposing fines of up to one million roubles, maximum seven year prison sentences or three years of compulsory labour.

However, it was Uralkali’s withdrawal from a potash sales cartel with Belarusian producer Belaruskali, leading to a sharp downward slide in prices, which reportedly led to Mr Baumgertner’s arrest by authorities in Minsk in August 2013. Together the cartel controlled approximately forty per cent of global potash exports. Belaruskali and Uralkali are the world’s two largest producers of potash.

Belarus has called for the arrest of Uralkali’s billionaire shareholder Suleiman Kerimov, who has since reportedly entered into negotiations to sell his stake. Potash, a soil nutrient, provides twelve per cent of the state revenue of Belarus and ten per cent of its export income. Uralkali’s withdrawal from the cartel is reported to have been unwelcome news for Belarusian president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has urged the two sides to collaborate once again in a cartel once valued at approximately $20 billion per annum.

Latest reports have suggested that Russia’s preparations for an extradition request for Mr Baumgertner are well advanced.

EU FINES CAR ELECTRICAL COMPONENT MANUFACTURERS

On 10 July 2013, the EUThe European flag flies outside of the La Canada shopping centre in Marbella, southern Spain Competition Commission fined four wire harness suppliers a total of EU141.8 million for taking part in cartels that covered the whole European Economic Area (EEA) and affected four major car companies; Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Renault.

The investigation covered five cartels which operated between 2000 and 2009. They involved bid-rigging to coordinate both price and allocation of supplies of wire harnesses, which link together a car’s electrical components.

The largest fine of EUR125 million (over 85% of the total) was handed to Yasaki, the world’s largest maker of wire harnessing systems. The other companies fined were Furukawa, S-Y Systems Technologies and Leoni. The fines were set on the basis of the Commissions’ 2006 Guidelines on fines, taking into account the companies’ EEA sales of the products involved, the very serious nature of the infringement, the cartels geographic scope and their duration.

However, Sumitomo Electric, which was involved in all five cartels, will not have to pay any of its EUR291 million fine because it alerted regulators to the anti-competitive behaviour and as a result benefited from full immunity under the Commission’s 2006 Leniency Notice. The remaining companies received between 20 and 50% reductions under the leniency programme due to their full cooperation with the investigation. They received a further 10% reduction under the settlement procedure for cartels (see the Commission’s 2008 Settlement Notice) which requires companies to acknowledge both their infringement and liability in exchange for an additional discount.

The investigation started with inspections in 2010 and proceedings were opened in August 2012. It has taken just 8 months since settlement discussions started with the companies for the investigation to reach its conclusion. The immunity granted to Sumitomo Electric, which would otherwise have faced a fine twice as large as the total imposed on the other four companies, as well as the substantial reductions that the other participants in the cartels received, serves as a good example of the benefits of cooperation, and in particular of being the first to alert authorities in order to take advantage of antitrust leniency programmes.