CITIBANK EXECUTIVES FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES IN SOUTH AFRICA FOR ALLEGEDLY ENGAGING IN “CORRUPT” COLLUSIVE CONDUCT

In the wake of Citibank entering into a R69 million settlement agreement with the South African Competition Commission (SACC), the Bank’s executives now face the threat of criminal sanctions as well.

Citibank’s settlement follows the SACC’s complaint referral in which it is alleged that up to 18 banking entities had engaged in collusive conduct in contravention of the Competition Act by allegedly manipulating the Rand/Dollar exchange rate through forex trading.

Citibank was one of the first respondents to settle their case with the SACC, however, on 21 April 2017, an independent organisation, the Black Empowerment Foundation (BEF), formally laid criminal charges against Citibank’s top executives at a South African Police station.

The allegations by the BEF include, inter alia, that Citibank had engaged in corrupt activities resulting in Citibank having “generated profits at the expense of ordinary South Africans”.

The BEF have also indicated that they would write to the President and the National Prosecuting Authority in an effort to elevate and expedite this case.

Importantly, as of 1 May 2016, the Competition Act was amended in order to criminalise cartel conduct – as prohibited in section 4(1)(b) of the Competition Act. It is not yet clear whether the criminal complaint laid by the BEF is based on a section 4(1)(b) contravention or a broader complaint of ‘corruption’ which is dealt with by other legislation, such as the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act.

The introduction of criminal liability for contravening the Competition Act has, however, been contentious. There have been a number of concerns raised by competition law practitioners regarding the manner in which a criminal investigation would be conducted. In this regard, it is important to note that the competition authorities are not responsible for investigating or adjudicating criminal matters. This function is reserved for the National Prosecuting Authority and the criminal courts (i.e. the High Courts).

Furthermore, section 4(1)(b) of the Competition Act prohibits cartel conduct per se (meaning that there is no rule of reason defence available to a respondent) which means that the threshold of contravening the Competition Act is relatively low. It is unlikely that this low threshold would suffice in respect of a criminal case.

It is further unclear to what extent any evidence gathered by the SACC may be used by the National Prosecuting Authority in a subsequent criminal complaint.

It is understood that there is currently a Memorandum of Understanding that is busy being drafted between the SACC and the National Prosecuting Authority which may provide greater clarity in relation to certain of the procedural aspects surrounding a criminal prosecution. To date, however, this MoU has not been published and little guidance has been provided by the respective agencies as to how they intend conducting criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Although it remains to be seen whether the criminal charges laid by the BEF will ultimately be prosecuted by the National Prosecuting Authority, the case is likely to take centre stage in the next few weeks as the entire investigation and referral of the banks by the SACC has been questioned and concerns regarding political influence has dogged the SACC since the decision was taken to refer the matter earlier this year.

It is also not yet clear why the BEF elected only to lay criminal charges against Citibank and not the other respondents. Collusive conduct by its very nature necessitates more than one party to be implicated.  The BEF may simply be waiting until additional banks enter into settlement agreements (in which an admission of liability is generally a requirement) with the SACC before laying further complaints. Regardless, the BEF’s complaint is likely to have a significant impact on other respondents who may be considering settling with the SACC.

With the threat of a maximum prison sentence of up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to R500 000, this complaint will not be taken lightly by Citibank and all eyes will not only on Citibank, but also on the respective enforcement agencies to see how they will respond to the criminal charges brought by the BEF.

Namibia Competition Commission: New Franchise Laws to Address Anti-Competitive Concerns

By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie

The CEO of the Namibian Competition Commission (NCC), Mr. Mihe Gaomab II, recently announced that the NCC has made submissions to the Minister of Trade and Industry in relation to proposed legislation which will regulate franchise models in Namibia.

Currently, there is no specific ‘franchise law’ in Namibia and moreover, franchisees are not required to apply to the Minister of Trade and Industry for registration of an ‘approval’ licences. Accordingly, there is minimal regulatory oversight in respect of franchise models.

While recognising the benefits of franchise models, the NCC is, however, concerned that there are a number of franchises in Namibia which may be anti-competitive in that the franchisor-franchisee relationship creates certain barriers to entry.

The NCC has specifically identified the practice, by way of an example, whereby certain franchisors deliberately ensure that there is a lack of competition between franchisees in the downstream market. The rationale behind this commercial strategy is allegedly so that the franchisor may extract greater royalties or franchise fees from the respective franchisees, as the franchisee is assured of a lack of competition.

The NCC views this practice as well as a various similar practices as potentially anti-competitive as the structure of certain franchise models may result in collusion between franchisees.

Unlike a number of jurisdictions, including South Africa, however, collusive conduct is not prohibited per se and a franchise agreement or model will, therefore, only amount to a contravention of the Namibia Competition Act if there is (or likely to be) an anti-competitive effect which cannot be justified or outweighed by other pro-competitive or efficiency arguments (i.e. rule of reason arguments).

The rule of reason analysis also extends to ‘minimum resale price maintenance’ (MRPM) under Namibian competition law. Again, unlike the position in South Africa, MRPM is not a per se prohibition (i.e. there is rule of reason defence available to a respondent). MRPM in terms of the South African Competition Act is a controversial topic as in many instances, the very success of a franchise model is dependent on uniformity in pricing across all franchisees. Furthermore, issues such as protecting brand reputation are also generally acceptable commercial practices which may amount to a contravention due to the strict application of the MRPM provisions under South African law.

In Namibia, franchisors therefore have somewhat more flexibility when recommending minimum resale prices than their South African counterparts. It should be noted, however, that the NCC is monitoring franchise models closely to ensure that franchisors do not overstep the mark by implementing a franchise model which has as its object or effect, the lessening of competition in the market.

Pan-African Antitrust Round-Up: Mauritius to Egypt & Tunisia (in)to COMESA

A spring smorgasbord of African competition-law developments

As AAT reported in late February, it is not only the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC), but also the the Egyptian antitrust authorities, which now have referred the heads of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to the Egyptian Economic Court for competition-law violations relating to certain exclusive marketing & broadcasting rights.  In addition, it has been reported that the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) has also initiated prosecution of seven companies engaged in alleged government-contract bid rigging in the medical supply field, relating to hospital supplies.

Nigeria remains, for now, one of the few powerhouse African economies without any antitrust legislation (as AAT has reported on here, here, here and here).

But, notes Andreas Stargard, an antitrust attorney with Primerio Ltd., “this status quo is possibly about to change: still waiting for the country’s Senate approval and presidential sign-off, the so-called Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill of 2016 recently made it past the initial hurdle of receiving sufficient votes in the lower House of Representatives.  Especially in light of the Nigerian economy’s importance to trade in the West African sphere, swift enactment of the bill would be a welcome step in the right direction.”

The global trend in competition law towards granting immunity to cartel whistleblowers has now been embraced by the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM), but with a twist: in a departure from U.S. and EU models, which usually do not afford amnesty to the lead perpetrators of hard-core antitrust violations, the CCM will also grant temporary immunity (during the half-year period from March 1 until the end of August 2017) not only to repentant participants but also to lead initiators of cartels, under the country’s Leniency Programme.

The Executive Director of the CCM, Deshmuk Kowlessur, is quoted in the official agency statement as follows:

‘The policy worldwide including Mauritius, regarding leniency for cartel is that the initiators of cartel cannot benefit from leniency programmes and get immunity from or reduction in fines. The amnesty for cartel initiatorsis a one-off opportunity for cartel initiators to benefit from immunity or up to 100% reduction in fines as provided for under the CCM’s leniency programme. The amnesty is a real incentive for any enterprise to end its participation in a cartel. In many cases it is not clear for the cartel participant itself as to which participant is the initiator. The participants being unsure whether they are an initiator finds it too risky to disclose the cartel and apply for leniency. The amnesty provides this unique window of 6 months where such a cartel participant can apply and benefit from leniency without the risk of seeing its application rejected on ground of it being an initiator.’

 

COMESA Competition Commission logoFinally, COMESA will grow from 19 to 20 member states, welcoming Tunisia at the upcoming October 2017 summit: the official statement notes that “Tunisia first applied for observer status in COMESA in 2005 but the matter was not concluded. In February, 2016 the country formally wrote to the Secretary General making inquiries on joining COMESA. This set in motion the current process towards its admission. once successfully concluded, Tunisia will become the 20[th] member of COMESA.”

This means that within 6 months of accession to the Common Market, Tunisia’s business community will be bound by the competition regulations (including merger control) enforced by the CCC.  Speaking of the CCC, the agency also recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mauritian CCM on March 24, facilitating inter-agency coordination.  In addition, the Zimbabwean Competition and Tariff Commission (CTC) will host a national sensitisation workshop on COMESA competition policy on May 16, 2017 in Harare, purportedly as a result of “over 50 transactions involving cross-border mergers notified” to the CCC involving the Zimbabwean market.  “The main objective of the national workshop is to raise awareness among the key stakeholders and business community in Zimbabwe with regards to the provisions and implementation of COMEA competition law,” the CTC noted in a statement.

 

MAURITIUS COMPETITION AUTHORITY PENALIZES FIRM FOR ENGAGING IN RESALE PRICE MAINTENANCE

By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie

In a landmark judgment, the Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM) recently concluded its first successful prosecution in relation to Resale Price Maintenance (RPM), which is precluded in terms of Section 43 of the Mauritius Competition Act 25 of 2007 (Competition Act).

The CCM held that Panagora Marketing Company Ltd (Panagora) engaged in prohibited vertical practices by imposing a minimum resale price on its downstream dealers and consequently fined Panagora Rs 29 932 132.00 (US$ 849,138.51) on a ‘per contravention’ basis. In this regard, the CMM held that Panagora had engaged in three separate instances of RPM and accordingly the total penalty paid by Pangora was Rs 3 656 473.00, Rs 22 198 549.00 and 4 007 110.00 respectively for each contravention.

The judgment is important as it not only demonstrates the CCM’s increasing enforcement efforts and risk of non-compliance with the Competition Act (this decisions follows on CCM’s recent findings against firms for engaging in abuse of dominance conduct) but has created a particularly strict threshold on firms in relation to what constitutes price maintenance in terms of Mauritius competition law. RPM is a prohibited vertical practice, in which suppliers restrict or prescribe the manner in which customers resell the relevant products or services. Minimum resale price maintenance is prohibited in most jurisdictions. Whether the contravention is a “per se’ contravention (i.e. that there is no rule of reason defence available to a respondent) or whether proving an anti-competitive effect is a necessary requirement to prove a contravention is generally the key difference in the manner in which competition agencies enforce RPM.

In relation to Panagora,  the company was found to have contravened the Competition Act as a result of having affixed the resale price on two of its ‘Chantecler’ branded chicken products (chilled and frozen), without affixing the words ‘recommended price’ next to the stated price.

In addition, Panagora engaged in promotional sales to dealers  utilising a ‘deal sheet’ which contained the following clause “Le fournisseur se reserve le droit d’annuler le tariff promotionnel au cas ou certains produits sont vendus en dessous du prix normal” (the supplier reserves the right to cancel the promotional price in the event that certain products are sold below the normal price).

Importantly, in reaching its determination, the Executive Director held that although foreign case law, particularly Australian, UK and EU legal precedent serves as a useful guideline. The Mauritius Competition Act (in so far as it relates to RPM), differs vastly from its international counter-parts. In this regard, the Competition Act merely requires evidence supporting the contention that there was an object or effect of directly or indirectly establishing a fixed or minimum price or price level to prove a contravention. The Mauritius Competition Act  does not require that the conduct in any way prevented, restricted or distorted competition in the market.

Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner with Africa boutique firm Primerio Ltd., notes that ‘[a] further important aspect of the CCM’s ruling is that sanction (or threat of a sanction) is not a requirement to prove a contravention of the RPM prohibition. Accordingly, the inquiry did not consider whether the downstream customer retained the discretion to price below the “stated price”.’

The legal precedent created by the CMM’s ruling provides much needed clarity as to how the CMM will evaluate resale price maintenance cases and firms need to be particularly cautious in relation to the terms of engagement with customers who on-sell their products.

 

South Africa: Dawn Raids on fresh produce markets

By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie

The South African Competition Commission (SACC) conducted yet another set of dawn raids, this time on the premises of nine of South Africa’s largest fresh produce market agents.

SAgrocery.jpgThe agents raided, which had operations at the Tshwane Market in Pretoria and the Joburg Market in Johannesburg, include the Botha Roodt Group (Botha Roodt); Subtropico (Pty) Ltd (Subtropico); RSA Group (Pty) Ltd (RSA Group); Dapper Market Agents (Pty) Ltd (Dapper); DW Fresh Produce CC (DW Fresh); Farmers Trust CC (Farmers Trust); Noordvaal Market Agents (Pty) Ltd (Noordvaal); Marco Fresh Produce Market Agency (Marco); and Wenpro Market Agents CC (Wenpro).

Although South Africa has about 30 fresh produce markets agents, the 6 largest agents allegedly account for approximately 80% of the fresh produce intermediaries. This means that the SACC included 3 agents in its raid which would not ordinarily be regarded as ‘large agents’.

The raid, according to the SACC’s media release, follows from a complaint which the SACC received from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The media release alleges that the agents engaged in prohibited cartel conduct, in contravention of Section 4(1)(b) of the South African Competition Act, in that they:

  • entered into an agreement and/or engaged in a concerted practice to fix the price and trading conditions for the supply of freshly produced fruits and vegetables in South Africa;
  • are involved in prohibited coordinated activities aimed at undercutting the prices charged by smaller intermediaries by charging way below the market price for certain agreed periods of a trading day;
  • keep their prices unsustainably low during these periods where after they (by agreement) quickly increase prices significantly as soon as the smaller agents run out of stock. Accordingly, certain volumes of fresh produce are sold during the late hours of trading with the sole aim of manipulating prices;
  • further make decisions regarding the actual timing of the price increases; and
  • reserve certain fresh produce grades for particular buyers, therefore, engaging in price discrimination based on the identity of buyers.

These agents facilitate the selling of fresh produce on behalf of farmers, for a commission (which rate they have allegedly also fixed over the years), to wholesalers, retailers and hawkers. Accordingly, the alleged conduct is considered particularly harmful as it affects the most vulnerable households. Additionally, SACC Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele stated that “…cartel activities in this sector serve to keep out emerging black farmers and agents out of the market. It is for these reasons that this sector ranks high in our priority list, and cartels, big or small, will be rooted out”.

Notably, the SACC in its statement indicated that the alleged conduct is believed to be ongoing. This may raise serious issues for the agents concerned as the SACC has not yet clarified how they intend on dealing with ongoing conduct for purposes of constituting an offence under section 73A of the Competition Amendment Act (In terms of the section 73A, any director or person with management authority may be held criminally liable for ‘causing’ or ‘knowingly acquiescing’ in cartel conduct). Accordingly, how this uncertainty will impact on the SACC’s corporate leniency policy remains to be seen. For more info on this, see South African Competition Commission… More Dawn Raids!

In conclusion, the timing of this dawn raid coincides with the SACC’s recent (ongoing) Market Inquiry into the Grocery Retail Market Sector. However, to what extent, if any, the Market Inquiry has had any relevance or impact on this dawn raid is unclear and remains a matter of mere speculation.

Cameroon: Opportunities & Challenges

This past Saturday, 11 March 2017, the Cameroonian Embassy in Paris, France, hosted a conference entitled “Cameroun, Destination d’Opportunités: Potentiel et défis” in conjunction with the Association of Cameroonian Attorneys in France.  The full programme is made available to AAT readers here.

1425573796In its afternoon panel on investment in Cameroons, Primerio Ltd. legal counsel, Dr. Patricia Kipiani spoke at length about the country’s high-growth sectors.  Her co-panellists included the Paris bar’s Lynda Amadagana as moderator, and William Nkontchou (ECP Director) and Hilaire Dongmo (Investment Principal at Actis).

BOTSWANA: COMPETITION AUTHORITY PROHIBITS MERGER POST-IMPLEMENTATION

– by Michael-James Currie

On 17 February 2017, the Competition Authority of Botswana (CA) prohibited a merger between Universal House (Pty) Ltd and Mmegi Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd.

Furthermore, the merger had already been implemented and, therefore, the CA ordered that the 28.73% interest in Mmegi Investments which Universal Investments had acquired be divested to a third party.

At the stage of ordering the divestiture, a suitable third party had not yet been identified and the merging parties were obliged to sell the 28.73 shares to a third party “with no business interests affiliated in any way with the acquiring entity”. The divestiture is also to take place within three months of the CA’s decisions and, should the thresholds be met for a mandatorily notifiable merger, the CA would require that the proposed divestiture also be notified.

The CA prohibited the merger on the grounds that the transaction was likely to lead to a substantial prevention or lessening of competition in the market. In particular, the CA held that the “market structure in the provision of commercial radio broadcasting services will be altered, and as such raises competition and public interest concerns”.

The CA does not, in its decision, elaborate specifically on what basis the proposed merger would likely lead to a lessening of competition in the market nor is there any mention of the public interest grounds upon which the CA prohibited the merger.

Regardless, the CA’s decision is clear affirmation that, like many competition agencies in Africa, it will not be seen to merely rubber-stamp mergers, but rather embark on substantive investigations in order to assess the impact of a particular transaction on the market, both in terms of traditional competition considerations and also on public interest grounds.

Accordingly, in light of the CA’s increasingly vigorous approach to merger control, firms who are potentially looking at potential mergers or acquisitions in Botswana need to take cognizance of the importance:

  • of ensuring that transactions are notified to the CA prior to implementing such a transaction; and
  • of ensuring that a comprehensive market and competitiveness report is submitted as part of the merger filing to ensure that the merging parties are best placed to demonstrate that a proposed transaction would not have adverse effects on competition in the market or on the public interest grounds.

In addition to engaging in increasingly substantive merger assessments, the CA has also demonstrated that it has the confidence and resources to tackle anti-competitive conduct practices as well as conduct market studies.

The Competition Authority of Botswana is, therefore, fast becoming one of Southern Africa’s more robust competition agencies.

 

 

 

 

COMESA Competition Commission investigates football broadcasting rights

COMESA old flag colorThe COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) recently announced that it will be investigating allegations of exclusionary conduct in relation to the Confederate of African Football’s (CAF) decision to extend an exclusive marketing of broadcasting rights and sponsorship agreement with Lagardère Sports in relation CAF tournaments.

It is not yet clear whether the CCC is investigating this matter as an ‘abuse of dominance’ case or rather, in terms of Article 16 of the CCC’s Rules, general restrictive practices.

COMESA Article 16 essentially precludes firms from implementing an agreement in the Common Market which has as its object or effect the distortion or prevention of competition in the Common Market, to the extent that it may restrict trade between member states.

The Registrar of the CCC, Meti Demissie Disasa, is quoted as saying: “The aim of the Commission’s investigation is to ensure that competition in the commercialisation and award of media and marketing rights for African Football tournaments is not undermined as a result of anti-competitive practices from market operators and that football fans can benefit from better and more coverage of the games and affordable viewing options.”

“Any agreement which contravenes Article 16 is automatically void. In light of the fact that the CAF agreement in question here is valuable and moreover only set to expire in 2028, a voiding of the contract by the CCC would likely be contested by the parties,” says competition practitioner Andreas Stargard.

cafsoccerThe CCC, which has to date largely focused on merger control, has certainly made clear strides to moving towards a greater enforcement role, as AAT first reported here. While there is still some ways to go, the current investigation follows the CCC’s announcement that it intends to conduct a market inquiry into the grocery retail sector and has also issued an announcement calling on all firms who may have exclusive agreements being implemented in the Common Market to disclose these agreements to the CCC in an effort to obtain authorisation (i.e., an exemption) from the CCC.  In 2016, Eveready applied to the CCC to have a number of distribution agreements “authorised” by the CCC.

The ECA and the CCC signed a Memorandum of Understanding in August 2016 which envisages increased cooperation between the two agencies including information exchanges.

In relation to the CAF complaint, the CCC received the complaint by the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) who is in turn also investigating this matter. This raises an interesting question as to whether or not the CCC has exclusive jurisdiction over this matter which, in terms of the CCC’s Rules, the CCC should have but other COMESA member-state competition authorities have challenged in the past.

UPDATE: the official CCC statement seeking stakeholder input includes the following passage regarding the agreements at issue:

It is alleged that on 12th June 2015, CAF entered into an agreement with Lagardère Sports S.A.S. for the exclusive commercialization of marketing and media rights of main regional football competitions in Africa, including the Africa Cup of Nations, African Nations Championship and African Champions League, for the period 2017 to 2028. CAF and Lagardère Sports S.A.S. are alleged to have previously entered into a similar commercialization agreement for marketing and media rights of CAF tournaments for the period 2009 to 2016. Consecutively and cumulatively, the length of the alleged exclusive agreement is twenty years. It should be noted that the commencement of investigations neither presupposes that the conduct being investigated is anti-competitive nor that any of the parties to the agreement has violated the Regulations. The Commission will, in accordance with the provisions of Part 3 of the Regulations, conduct an inquiry into the agreements concluded between CAF and Lagardère Sports S.A.S. to determine whether the alleged conduct has as its object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition in the Common Market or in a substantial part of it. In view of the foregoing, the Commission hereby gives notice to all interested stakeholders and the general public to submit their representations to the Commission … no later than 21st April 2017.

South African Airways (SAA) to pay $80 million in civil damages to competitor Comair for abuse of dominance

-by Michael-James Currie

currie2

A second civil damages award was recently imposed on South Africa’s national airline carrier, SAA, following on from the Competition Tribunal’s finding that SAA had engaged in an abuse of dominance.   The award in favour of Comair, comes after the first ever successful follow-on civil damages claim in South Africa (as a result of competition law violation) which related to Nationwide’s civil claim against SAA.  In the Nationwide matter, the High Court awarded , (in August 2016) damages to Nationwide in the amount of R325 million.   Comair claim for damages was based on the same cause of action as Nationwide’s claim. The High Court, however, awarded damages in favour of Comair of R554 million plus interest bring the total award to over a R1 billion (or about US$ 80 million).

Both damages cases entailed lengthy proceedings as Nationwide (and subsequently Comair) launched complaints, in respect of SAA’s abuse of dominance, to the South African Competition Commission as far back as 2003. Importantly, in terms of South Africa’s legislative framework, a complainant may only institute a civil damages claim based on a breach of the South African Competition Act if there has been an adverse finding either by the Competition Tribunal or the Competition Appeal Court.

The outcome of the High Court case is significant as the combined civil damages (both Nationwide’s and Comair’s) together with the administrative penalties imposed by the Competition Tribunal (in 2006) amounts total liability for SA is in excess of R1.5 billion.

Says John Oxenham, “Although the South African competition regime has been in place for more than 16 years and there have been a number of adverse findings against respondents by the competition authorities, have only been a limited number of civil follow-on damages cases.” This is largely due to the substantial difficulties (or perceived difficulties) a plaintiff faces in trying to quantify the damages, he believes. Follow-on damages claims for breaches of competition legislation are notoriously difficult to prove not only in South Africa but in most jurisdictions.

The recent Nationwide and Comair judgments, however, may pave the way and provide some important guidance to potential plaintiffs who are contemplating pursuing civil redress against firms which have engaged in anti-competitive conduct (including cartel conduct).

In this regard, the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) announced last year that it has also instituted a civil damages claim of approximately R700 million against a number of construction firms who had had been found by the Competition Authorities to have engaged in cartel conduct.  The SANRAL case will be the first damages claim, if successful, by a ‘customer’ against a respondent who has contravened the Competition Act in relation to cartel conduct (and not abuse of dominance as in the SAA case).

saaplaceThe only previous civil damages claim was in the form of a class action instituted by bread distributors and consumers in relation to cartel conduct involving plant bakeries. Although the class was ultimately successful in their certification application, the case provides no further guidance as to the quantification of damages as the respective parties have either settled their case or remain in settlement negotiations.

As the development of civil redress in South Africa develops in relation to cartel conduct, it will be particularly interesting to evaluate what the effect of civil damages may have on the Competition Commission’s Corporate Leniency Policy. The Commission’s leniency policy only offers immunity to a respondent who is “first through the door” from an administrative penalty. It does not extend immunity to a whistle-blower for civil damages or criminal liability. It is well understood that the Corporate Leniency Policy has been one of the Commission’s most effective mechanisms in identifying and successfully prosecuting firms which have engaged in cartel conduct.

In relation to the recent civil damages cases, John Oxenham, a Primerio director, notes that “Parties will have to strike a delicate balance whether to approach the Competition Commission for purposes of obtaining immunity from an administrative penalty, which is no doubt made all the more difficult following the R1.5 billion administrative penalty levied on ArcelorMittal in 2016 (the largest administrative penalty imposed in South Africa to date) will no doubt be of some import given that most of the conduct related to cartel conduct“.

Accordingly, in light of the introduction of criminal liability as of May 2016, the imposition of record administrative penalties, the risk substantial follow-on civil damages and the development of class action litigation, South Africa is now evermore a rather treacherous terrain for firms and their directors.

SOUTH AFRICA: ZUMA’S STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS MAY BE HINT AT INTRODUCTION OF COMPLEX MONOPOLY PROVISIONS

While the media headlines are largely filled with the disruptions that took place at the State of the Nation Address (SONA) by President Jacob Zuma on 9 February 2017, the President made an important remark which, if true, may have a significant impact on competition law in South Africa, particular in relation to abuse of dominance cases.

In this regard, the President stated that:

During this year, the Department of Economic Development will bring legislation to Cabinet that will seek to amend the Competition Act. It will among others address the need to have a more inclusive economy and to de-concentrate the high levels of ownership and control we see in many sectors. We will then table the legislation for consideration by parliament.

In this way, we seek to open up the economy to new players, give black South Africans opportunities in the economy and indeed help to make the economy more dynamic, competitive and inclusive. This is our vision of radical economic transformation.”

Patel talksNeither the President nor Minister Patel have given any further clarity as to the proposed legislative amendments other than Patel’s remarks early in January 2017 in which he stated that:

The review covers areas such as the efficacy of the administration of the Competition Act, procedural aspects in the investigation and prosecution of offences, matters relating to abuse of dominance, more effective investigations against cartels and the current public interest provisions of the act.

Says John Oxenham, a competition attorney who has closely followed the legislative and policy developments, “despite the broad non-committal remarks by Minister Patel, it is clear that the Minister is zealous in having the ‘complex monopoly’ provisions brought into force to address in order to address, what the Minister perceives to be, significant abuse of dominance in certain concentrated markets.”

In terms of the provisions, as currently drafted, where five or less firms have 75% market share in the same market, a firm could be found to have engaged in prohibited conduct if any two or more of those firms collectively act in a parallel manner which has the effect of lessening competition in the market (i.e. by creating barriers to entry, charging excessive prices or exclusive dealing and “other market characteristics which indicate coordinated behavior”).

white-collar-crimeDespite having been promulgated in 2009, the ‘complex monopoly’ provisions have not yet been brought into effect largely due to the concerns raised as to how these provisions will be enforced, says Primerio Ltd.’s Andreas Stargard: “It is noteworthy that the introduction of criminal liability for directors and persons with management authority who engage in cartel conduct was also promulgated in 2009, but surprised most (including the Competition Authorities) when it was quite unexpectedly brought into force in 2016.”

Minister Patel was no doubt a key driving force behind the introduction of criminal liability and it would, therefore, not be surprising if the complex monopoly provisions are brought into force with equal swiftness in 2017.