Do antitrust settlements require an admission of guilt? Appellate body says “no”, overrules CID

Barring an application for review to the community’s highest court, decisions by the COMESA Competition Commission and its CID (Committee for Initial Determinations) are reviewed by the COMESA Appeals Board (“CAB”). In other words, the CAB is the crucial mid-layer of appellate review in antitrust matters across the COMESA region.

The CAB recently published its important December 2022 ruling in the CAF / Confédération Africane de Football matter. The CAF case is noteworthy in at least 3 respects, says Andreas Stargard, a competition attorney with Primerio International:

“For one, it deals with one of the CCC’s very first cases involving anti-competitive business practices; heretofore, virtually all decisions by the Commission involved pure merger matters.

Second, the CAB ruling is important in that it lays the groundwork for future settlements (or commitments) between the Commission and parties accused (but not yet found guilty) of violations of the COMESA competition regulations.

Lastly, the Appeals Board highlights the importance of issuing well-reasoned, written decisions, on which the parties (and others) can rely in the future. The CAB has made clear what we at Primerio have long advocated for: a competition enforcer must articulate clearly and state fully all of the reasons for its findings and ultimate decision(s). This is necessary in order for readers of the written opinion to evaluate the factual and legal bases for each. The CAB has now expressly held so, which is a welcome move in the right direction for COMESA litigants!”

In an ironic twist in the 5-year saga of the CAF investigation by the CCC, the Commission and the parties themselves had reached an agreed settlement, according to whose terms the parties did not admit guilt, yet agreed to (and in fact anticipatorily did) cease and desist from performing under their sports-marketing contract, which was essentially torn up by the commitment decision. Yet, to the surprise of the CCC and the private parties under investigation, in the summer of 2022 the CID refused to sign off on the settlement, due to the sole (otherwise unexplained) reason that there was a lack of an admission of guilt. The parties sought reconsideration on various grounds, which the CID again refused a second time. These rulings were then appealed — successfully — to the CAB, which quashed the CID’s unsubstantiated determinations and gave effect to the parties’ previously-reached settlement agreement with the CCC.

The full decision — which deals in detail with the CAF’s distribution agreements for the commercialization of marketing and media rights in relation to sports events — can be accessed on AAT’s site, see below.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s