Auto-body repair centres raided by SACC
Earlier this morning, the South African Competition Commission (“Commission”) has conducted dawn raids at the offices of Precision and Sons (“Precision”), Eldan Auto Body (“Eldan”) in Pretoria West, as well as the Vehicle Accident Assessment Centre (“VAAC”) in Centurion.
Precision and Eldan’s business activities include panel beating, spray painting and towing of vehicles. Precision is an approved auto body repairer to Original Equipment Manufacturers (“OEMs”) such as Cadillac, Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat, Kia, Chevrolet, Toyota and Honda, while Eldan is an approved auto body repairer to OEMs such as Jeep, Fiat, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Honda and Nissan.
The VAAC is an assessment centre which renders vehicle assessment services to customers of both Precision and Eldan.
The Commission has indicated that the dawn raid operation forms part of its ongoing investigation into collusive conduct in the market for auto body repairs. The Commission has also indicated that it has reasonable grounds to believe that information relevant to this investigation is located on the premises of the two companies.
Sections 46 to 49A of the South African Competition Act of 1998 (“Competition Act”) empowers the Commission to conduct surprise search and seizure visits and to carry out so-called “dawn raids” to a firm’s business premises in order to inspect documents and interview staff where an infringement of competition law is suspected.
The Commission is empowered to enter any such premises when a judge or a magistrate has issued a warrant. Although a warrant is usually an essential requirement to ensure that a dawn raid is conducted in accordance with the law, the Competition Commission does have the power to enter and search a premises without a warrant, in exceptional circumstances. The Commission has confirmed that it has duly obtained the warrants which authorise it to search the offices of Precision, Eldan and VAAC from the North Gauteng High Court.
If the Commission has reason to believe that a firm is in contravention of provisions of the Competition Act, or is in possession of information relating to a matter that is under investigation, the Commission’s investigators have the authority to enter into the firm’s premises in order to inspect and request copies of documents, ask for information in relation to any documents, take notes and interrogate employees, search and examine computer data and remove evidence from the premises. In particular, officials may examine files, reports and emails. The Competition Commission is entitled to confiscate computer hard drives. They may also take copies of documents.
Following a four-year dawn raid “drought”, the immediately-previous dawn raid initiated by the Commission had been conducted in April 2014 at the offices of Unilever South Africa (Pty Ltd) and Sime Darby’s respective South African offices, in relation to the Commission’s investigation into alleged collusive conduct in the product markets for the manufacture and supply of edible oils and baking fats to both wholesale and retail customers.