almuniaOn 2 April 2014, the Commission announced the imposition of fines totalling €301,639, 000 on 11 producers of high voltage power cables that it alleged had operated a cartel. The companies concerned included most of the world´s largest high voltage power cable producers, namely ABB, Nexans, Prysmian (previously Pirelli), J-Power Systems (previously Sumitomo Electric and Hitachi Metals), VISCAS (previously Furukawa Electric and Fujikura), EXSYM (previously SWCC Showa and Mitsubishi Cable), Brugg, NKT, Silec (previously Safran), LS Cable and Taihan. ABB received full immunity from fines under the Commission’s 2006 Leniency Notice as it was the first to reveal the cartel to the Commission.

The cartel operated for a decade from 1999-2009 and according to the Commission, the participants openly weighed up the risk of being caught running a cartel against the potential profits that would result, as well as making extensive efforts to delete incriminating documents.

In general terms the companies allocated bids between them, agreeing price levels in advance to ensure that a designated supplier would offer the lowest price. The Japanese and Korean members of the cartel agreed not to bid against their European counterparts whenever they received requests from European customers. The members of the cartel regularly met in hotels in Europe and South-East Asia, sending e-mails and faxes to reach agreements. The participants divided up the world into regions and agreed to stay out of one another’s home territories.

Of particular note is the €37.3m fine announced on Goldman Sachs for its role as a former owner of Prysmian. According to the Commission, it is sufficient for an investment company to have a “decisive influence” over the commercial policy of the investee company to attract liability.

Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: “These companies knew very well that what they were doing was illegal. This is why they acted cautiously and with great secrecy. Despite this and through joint efforts by several competition authorities around the world, we have detected their anti-competitive agreements and brought them to an end.”


On 21 March 2014 the Brazilian Conselho Administrativo de Defesa Econômica, (“CADE”), announced that its investigation into trains and subways in 5 Brazilian states had turned up evidence of cartel activity. The investigation is one of the largest ever conducted in Brazil and includes several multinational companies.

The investigation is focused on train and subway procurements between 1998 and 2013. 18 companies and 109 employees are accused of participation. A search and seizure operation in July 2013, carried out by CADE, produced evidence of possible bid-rigging in 15 public tenders worth a total of BRL 9.4 billion. The investigation arose from participation in a leniency programme by the German conglomerate Siemens.

In a 200-page report, CADE’s investigators claim the subway contractors divided the tenders among themselves by agreeing bids in advance. CADE has alleged that contractors accepted payments from rivals for not participating in the tenders.

The politically sensitive investigation has attracted more media attention than any previous cartel investigation in Brazil, due to suggestions that public officials were aware of the alleged conspiracy. Siemens’ voluntary disclosure surfaced just weeks before a contract for a 318-mile high-speed line between the cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro came up for bidding. Under Brazilian law the companies involved could be fined 20% of their turnover. Balfour Beatty, Caterpillar, Alstom and Mitsui are included within the scope of the investigation, which has reportedly proceeded slowly due to the quantity of information seized in the July 2013 raids.

Public prosecutors in São Paulo have launched a parallel investigation into whether illegal kickbacks were paid to government officials to obtain lucrative contracts for the construction, fitting and maintenance of metro trains and lines. Observers have suggested that the case could lead to the first prison sentences for cartel activity in Brazilian history.


Takata Corporation, the Tokyo-based supplier of seat belts to Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda and Fuji (the parent company of Subaru) will pay a US$71.3 million fine to settle conspiracy to restrain trade charges brought by the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division.

Takata is accused of conspiring with other companies between January 2003 and February 2011 to “suppress and eliminate competition in the automotive parts industry by agreeing to rig bids for, and to fix, stabilize and maintain the prices of certain seatbelts,” according to the criminal information sheet detailing charges against Takata, filed with the Detroit Court.

Reports indicate that Chairman and CEO Shigehisa Takada will take a 30 per cent cut in executive compensation while other directors take a 15 per cent cut. Gary Walker, a sales director at the company’s US subsidiary, TK Holdings, will reportedly serve a 14-month prison sentence and pay a US$20,000 fine.

Takata has pledged to continue to co-operate with ongoing Department of Justice investigations. The company stated that it “takes this matter seriously and has taken steps to strengthen its compliance programs to comply with all applicable laws and regulations. Takata has also strengthened its internal control systems to prevent a recurrence and is committed to regaining the trust of our stakeholders.”

The car industry investigation is the largest ever conducted in the United States. Settlement agreements with US antitrust authorities have been reached by several companies, including Tokai Rika, TRW Deutschland, Furukawa Electric, Fujikura and Nippon Seiki.

From the Department of Justice, Scott Hammond, of the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program, said “Every time we discover a conspiracy involving the automotive industry, we seem to find another one.”


356-Vince-Cable2-688x344The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published a consultation document setting out its draft Guidance and Rules of Procedure for investigation procedures under the Competition Act 1998 (the Guidance and Rules of Procedure). The document is part of a wider consultation about how the CMA will work in practice and how it will interact with businesses and individuals when it takes over the functions of the OFT on 1 May 2014. A previous blog post discussed the draft prosecution guidance on the criminal cartel offence.

The Guidance and Rules of Procedure largely mirrors the current OFT guide to investigation procedures in competition cases, but in addition covers a series of new powers granted to the CMA under the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. These include:

  • Giving the CMA the power to interview individuals;
  • Replacing the current criminal sanctions for failing to comply with investigations with civil financial sanctions;
  • Giving the CMA the express power to publish a notice of investigation, which may name a party or parties to an investigation;
  • Lowering the threshold for the CMA to impose interim measures; and
  • Introducing new statutory factors to be taken into account in fixing a penalty.

The most controversial of these powers is the new power under section 26A of the Competition Act 1998 to require any individual who has a connection with a business which is a party to an investigation to answer questions on any matter relevant to the investigation. The OFT has said that the new power is designed to make the CMA’s investigations more robust and efficient by enabling it to obtain information orally that it would otherwise either not be able to obtain or only be able to obtain through written requests. However, concerns have been raised that it will be used to carry out ‘fishing expeditions’ for information during investigations and that individuals’ rights may not be adequately protected.

The CMA must provide both the person and the undertaking with a formal notice which will ordinarily state the time and place at which the person must be available for questioning. However, the Guidance and Rules of Procedure state that in certain circumstances the CMA may interview an individual using its formal powers immediately after giving the notice. This is likely to be during a dawn raid where the CMA is of the view that a delay in conducting the interview may compromise the investigation.

A person being formally questioned may request that a lawyer be present. The CMA will only permit a legal adviser who is also acting for the undertaking under investigation to attend the interview if it is satisfied that this will not risk prejudicing the investigation (for example because it would increase the risk of destruction of evidence or reduce the incentive for individuals being questioned to speak openly and honestly). If this is the case, then the person can request another lawyer and the CMA will delay questioning for a reasonable time to allow a legal adviser to attend. However, the Guidance and Rules of Procedure define “a reasonable time” as such period of time as the officer considers is reasonable in the circumstances. The wide discretion granted to the relevant CMA officer raises the possibility that people may be formally interviewed without a lawyer present or without being fully aware of their rights.

The definition of connected individuals is also very wide, covering not only directors and employees, but also consultants, volunteers, contract staff and professional advisers.

The consultation closes on 11 November


Office of Fair Trading logoOn 8 July 2013, the UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) published its final revised Guide to applications for leniency and no-action in cartel cases. The Guide, which took effect on publication, follows two consultations on the draft revisions, the second of which specifically addressed the issue of waiver of legal privilege in leniency applications (covered in paragraphs 3.15 to 3.23 of the Guide).

The OFT has announced that it will no longer require leniency applicants in cartel cases to waive legal privilege under any circumstances. The existing policy is that while waivers are not required in civil competition investigations, they may be in certain circumstances in criminal cases. Applicants may still be asked if they are willing to waive legal privilege, but a refusal to do so will not have any adverse consequences for the leniency application.

The decision not to insist on waiver of legal privilege has been made primarily due to concerns that any requirement would act as a disincentive to potential leniency applicants. In particular, if applicants feel unable to make full and frank disclosure to their legal advisers then it is difficult for them to obtain proper advice in order to make an informed decision about action to take in relation to any cartel activity, especially given that leniency is not usually confirmed until late in the process.

The OFT has also taken into account that many other competition authorities, such as the European Commission and the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division, do not require waiver as a condition of leniency, and the fact that the Government has confirmed that waiver of legal privilege will not be a condition of the proposed Deferred Prosecution Agreements.

While this change has been overwhelmingly welcomed, the introduction of a new independent counsel to which applicants may be required to submit material over which they are claiming privilege for assessment as to whether that claim is justified, is more controversial.

Critics have pointed out that the disclosure of materials to the independent counsel could result in a waiver of legal privilege over those documents in some jurisdictions, in particular the US. The OFT did not consider these concerns relevant because they deal with considerations outside of the UK legal framework. It remains to be seen whether companies, especially those with wide-ranging international interests, will consider this risk significant enough to deter them from taking part in the leniency process. There are also concerns that an appeal by a leniency applicant against a decision of the independent counsel that privilege does not apply may adversely affect the OFT’s view as to whether the applicant is complying with its obligation of continuous and complete cooperation under the leniency programme. The OFT has said that this will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Despite these concerns, the decision by the OFT to change its policy and cease to require leniency applicants to waive legal privilege in both civil and criminal proceedings is a significant step forward, and demonstrates the results that robust responses to official consultations can achieve.

The OFT has also published two new Quick Guides to cartels and leniency, one for businesses and one for individuals.


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.


Japan’s Yazaki Corporation, the world’s 13th largest global auto parts supplier, has been has fined C$30 million in Canada. The investigation by the Canadian Competition Bureau into the auto parts industry is the largest ever undertaken by Canadian authorities and this fine is the largest ever ordered by a Canadian Court.

This record fine by the Canadian authorities dwarfs a fine of $470m imposed against Yazaki in March last year by the US Department of Justice following a guilty plea to cartel conduct over a ten year period.

The Canadian fine was reduced as a consequence of Yazaki participating in the Bureau’s Leniency Program and providing substantial assistance to the Bureau and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.