The Office of Fair Trading (the OFT) has announced that criminal proceedings have been started in its latest cartel offence investigation. This is one of two current criminal investigations which the OFT is pursuing at present.
The investigation involves Mr Peter Nigel Snee, who was charged on 13 January 2014 under section 188 of the Enterprise Act 2002, ie the criminal cartel offence. He appeared on 27 January 2014 at Westminster Magistrates Court and is due to appear at Southwark Crown Court today (4 Feb 2014) for a Preliminary Hearing.
The cartel offence is the criminal offence which applies to individuals who dishonestly engage in cartel agreements, ie to agree to make or implement, or to cause to be made or implemented, arrangements which constitute certain types of cartel activity, namely price-fixing, limiting or preventing supply or production, market-sharing and bid-rigging. It operates alongside the existing civil competition law regime, primarily to deter individuals against engaging in cartel activity. Individuals convicted of the cartel offence may be sentenced to up to five years' imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
The criminal proceedings against Mr Snee are supplementary to a civil investigation into the galvanised steel tank industry in the UK, which the OFT also recently started. Under the civil investigation, the OFT is looking at agreements between competitors which allegedly divided customers, fixed prices and rigged bids between 2004 and 2012. The alleged arrangements related to a number of businesses, including Franklin Hodge Industries Limited, Galglass Limited, Kondea Water Supplies Limited and CST Industries (UK) Limited. The OFT has noted that the milestones in the civil investigation are largely contingent on the progress of Mr Snee's related criminal case.
The OFT operates a rewards policy under which it may pay a financial reward of up to £100,000 in return for information which helps it to identify and take action against illegal cartels. The OFT also encourages businesses involved in cartel activity to blow the whistle on their conduct, in which case the business can obtain leniency from fines and its staff can secure leniency from criminal prosecution.
For more information see the OFT's press release here.