COMESA, commissioners, Meet the Enforcers, personnel

Dr. Willard Mwemba confirmed as CEO

APPOINTMENT OF DR WILLARD MWEMBA AS THE DIRECTOR AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE COMESA COMPETITION COMMISSION

 November 15th, 2021  Competition CommissionFacebookTwitterShare

PRESS RELEASE

 APPOINTMENT OF DR WILLARD MWEMBA AS THE DIRECTOR AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE COMESA COMPETITION COMMISSION

 The COMESA Competition Commission (the “CCC”) wishes to inform the general public that the COMESA Council of Ministers at its 42nd Meeting held on 9th November 2021 appointed Dr Willard Mwemba as its Director and Chief Executive Officer.

The Commission’s Board, Management and Staff members wishes to congratulate Dr Mwemba on his well-deserved appointment. Dr Mwemba has been with the CCC since January 2013 being its first Head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Department until his appointment as the Acting Director and Chief Executive Officer on 1 February 2021. He has acted in this capacity until 9 November 2021 when his appointment was confirmed. Prior to joining the CCC, Dr Mwemba was the Director of Mergers and Monopolies at the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), Zambia.

Dr Mwemba has been instrumental in the enforcement of competition and consumer laws both at national and regional level. At national level, he has assisted a number of national competition authorities in developing and operationalising their mergers and restrictive business practices divisions. At regional level, he has been instrumental in implementing and reforming the COMESA Competition Law regime.  He has written extensively on competition law and is widely consulted on the subject at global level.

Dr Mwemba holds several qualifications among them Bachelor’s degrees in Economics and Law from the University of Zambia. He also holds a Master’s degree in Competition Law from Kings College London. He further holds a PhD from the University of Cape Town specializing in competition law.

The Board of Commissioners, Management and Staff members of the CCC have great confidence in Dr Mwemba’s capabilities and wishes him well as he executes the mandate of enhancing intra-COMESA trade through the creation of competitive markets.

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COMESA, draft, fines

CCC draft Guidelines (no. 3/3): Penalties

COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) seeks input on draft guidelines for determination of administrative penalties.

In this article in a three-piece series, we discuss the Determination of Administrative Penalties Guidelines draft, which has been published (in addition to the Hearing Procedure and Settlement Guidelines). The draft Guidelines comment period expired today, 12 November 2021.

The Guideline establishes a two-step methodology when determining a fine to be imposed on undertakings. The first step will see the Commission set a “base amount” for each undertaking or association of undertakings. The second step provides the Commission with the necessary discretion to adjust the base amount, either upwards or downwards, having consideration of any aggravating, mitigating or any other factors (Section 5(1)(a)-(b)).

The “base amount” will be set with reference to the undertaking’s turnover in the Common Market from the previous financial year and by applying the following methodology:

  • The base amount will be a proportion of the turnover and will depend on the nature, degree and gravity of the infringement and multiplied by the number of years of the infringement (Section 5(8)).
  • The Guideline deems the following as aggravating factors:
    • Nature and gravity of the infringement (Section 5(10)(a));
    • Duration of infringement(Section 5(10)(b));
    • Extend of consumers affected in the Member States and any action taken by the company to mitigate or remedy the damage suffered by consumers (Section 5(10)(c)).
  • The Guidelines propose the following base proportion of turnover to be applied:
    • Cartel conduct: a base of 5% of turnover;
    • Other horizontal conduct: a base of 4% of turnover;
    • Abuse of dominance: a base of 3% of turnover;
    • Restraints: a base of 2% of turnover;
    • Consumer protection violations: a base of 1% of turnover;
    • Mergers implemented in contravention of the Regulations: a base of 2% of turnover;
    • Failure to cooperate with the Commission: a base of 0.5% of turnover; and
    • Other infringements: a base of 0.5% of turnover.
  • The following aggravating circumstances may result in the increase of the base amount:
    • Continuation or repeat of the same or a similar infringement: basic amount will be increased by 3% of the amount of the fine for each infringement;
    • Refusal to cooperate with or obstruction of the Commission’s investigation: basic amount will be increased by 5% of the amount of the fine;
    • Where an undertaking is a leader in, or instigator of the infringement: basic amount will be increased by 4% of the amount of the fine.
  • The Commission may reduce the basic amount if the following mitigating factors exist:
    • Cooperation: decrease in the basic amount by 5% of the fine;
    • First offender: decrease in the basic amount by 3% of the fine;
    • Justifications on efficiency and consumer benefit: decrease in the basic amount by 0.5% of the fine;
    • Termination of the infringement: decrease in the basic amount by 0.5% of the fine;
    • Negligence: decrease in the basic amount by 0.1% of the fine; and
    • Extent of involvement in the infringement: decrease in the basic amount by 0.5% of the fine.

A reduction of a fine could be granted, upon request, solely on the basis of objective evidence that the imposition of the fine would irretrievably jeopardize the economic viability of the undertaking concerned and cause its assets to lose all their value (Section 5(21)).

COMESA Competition Commission logo
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COMESA, draft, settlement

CCC draft Guidelines (no. 2/3): ‘Hearing Procedure’

COMESA Competition Commission seeks input on Determination of Hearing Procedure Guidelines

By Gina Lodolo

We previously published an analysis of the regional antitrust enforcer’s recently-published “Settlement Guidelines”.

In this article, we briefly discuss the Hearing Procedure draft which has been published (in addition to the Administrative Penalties Procedure and Settlement Guidelines).  The draft Guidelines have been published for public stakeholder comments due by 12 November 2021. Fundamentally, the COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) emphasizes that, during its investigative proceedings, the principles of natural justice must be adhered to, in the sense that the parties have the right to be heard.

Hearings will be conducted during either of the following stages:

  1. The hearings during the investigations process;
  2. Hearing by the Director before publication of notice of compulsory recall of defective goods; and
  3. Hearing before the Committee for the Initial Determination (“Committee”) of cases.

The CCC notes that in regard to hearings for the initial determination of cases, hearings are not intended to be the major source of information because the primary method of information gathering will be gleaned from responses received from the
“Notice of Investigation” that will first be sent in terms of  Article 21(6)(a) and 22(1) of the Regulations.

When will the CCC hold hearings?

  1. May hold hearings during investigations (at any time);
  2. Shall hold a hearing:
    • Before making recommendations;
    • Before taking decisions; and
  3. (In its consumer-protection role only:) Before the CCC publishes a notice of a compulsory product recall.

Hearing procedure once it has been determined that a hearing will be held

  1. The CCC shall give fifteen working days notice to all of the parties involved;
  2. A notice will be published to invite interested parties;
  3. Notice of the main issue must be given within ten working days and will provide the main issues identified and the main questions that will be raised (any other questions may still be raised at the hearing as long as “they are reasonably related to the matter under investigation.

During the Hearing

  1. The Committee will test the evidence before it and interrogate the CCC’s team that conducted the investigation.
  2. The party under investigation will also be provided the opportunity to:
    • Clarify and develop the evidence that it provided during the investigation;
    • Comment on and rebut evidence and information supplied by other parties; and
    • Make further representations, which may, in relevant cases, address the question of whether a practice has public benefits that may offset any adverse effects on competition.

After a Committee has been convened to hear the matter:

  1. Any party required to attend the hearing must be given twenty-one days’ notice of the hearing date.
  2. Upon application by a party, a pre-hearing can be requested to confirm that all of the parties can attend the hearing and have received all documentation relied on by the other party.

After the conclusion of the hearing, a decision will be made by the Committee within forty-five days. If the Committee finds that the respondent has breached the Rules or Regulations, in “appropriate instances” a remedy can be discussed.

Any party has a right of appeal and will do so in accordance with Rule 24(d), (e) and (f) of the COMESA Rules, 2004.

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COMESA, draft, settlement

CCC seeks input on Settlement, other, Guidelines

The Agency is seeking stakeholder comments with a deadline of Nov. 12th, 2021. The (draft) Settlement Guidelines are modeled expressly after European and Zambian precedent (as opposed to U.S.-American law, which is not mentioned as a source), and include key provisions that lay out the procedure envisioned by COMESA.

In this article, we discuss the Settlement Guidelines draft, which has been published (in addition to Hearing Procedure and Fines Guidelines). Key elements for a respondent party entering into the Settlement procedure outlined in the draft include:

  • Settlement (negotiations) may occur “before or after having sight of the Commission’s case.” (Section 3.7);
  • that any settlement, other than in Article 20 proceedings, must include an admission of liability (Section 4);
  • settlements are to achieve “procedural efficiency” and the “possibility of setting a precedent.”  (Ibid.);
  • a rather onerous 4-factor list of requirements demanded of parties opting for a settlement procedure, including (a) liability acknowledgement, (b) commitment to pay CCC’s fines or other remedies imposed pursuant to the Regulations (with an understanding that the party has been made aware of the maximum fine amount previously), (c) acknowledgement of procedural transparency, and (d) agreement not to seek additional access to the file or request further hearings on the matter. (Section 6);
  • both the CCC as well as the affected party may withdraw from the procedure, with notice (Ibid., points 3-6);
  • submissions made during the settlement procedure are not publicly available (nor to complainants), instead they are only made available for viewing (not copying) to other addressees of the investigation who are not settling (Ibid., point 7);
  • COMESA member state competition authorities (NCAs) will be sent copies of the settlement submissions, under the same safeguard rules (Ibid., point 8);

Section 8 covers CCC investigations pursuant to all Articles other than Art. 20, i.e., Arts. 18, 21, and 22 investigations brought by the Commission.  It lays out a time frame and procedure akin to what AAT perceives as a “quasi-leniency regime”, as it requires similarly onerous commitments: admission of liability, full disclosure of evidence related to the conduct at issue and its “implementation”, as well as a commitment to cease and desist from engaging in the conduct.  The respondent party is subject to strict gag orders of non-disclosure of materials obtained during the investigation and settlement procedure, and it may propose “undertakings” to the CCC, which the Commission is not obligated to accept (point 7).

COMESA Competition Commission logo

The draft Settlement Guidelines highlight “efficiency, absence of subsequent litigation, and savings on resources” as three incentives for settlement (Section 12), although it is unclear to us how the CCC envisions to achieve legal certainty as to the second factor, namely protecting the settling respondent(s) from future follow-on litigation in other jurisdictions outside COMESA.  Clarity in this regard will be required, as this promise appears to be unenforceable as an extraterritorial application of the COMESA Regulations and Guidelines.  

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COMESA, fines, Madagascar, Malawi, mergers, Telecoms

Mergers: 1st failure-to-notify penalty — Helios now gets what Akzo avoided in 2017

The COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) is stepping up to the plate in 2021, and nobody can deny it. The days of ignoring the CCC’s jurisdiction over M&A deals, joint ventures, and even anti-competitive agreements in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa are decidedly over, as the antitrust enforcer has significantly increased its presence and visibility in the legal and business communities over the past 6 months.

In its latest bid to be considered by the antitrust community to rank among the leading African competition-law agencies, the CCC has issued its first-ever failure-to-notify fine on mobile-phone infrastructure providers Helios Towers Limited (“Helios Towers”), Madagascar Towers S.A (“Madagascar Towers”) and Malawi Towers Limited (“Malawi Towers”) for failure to notify the transaction within the prescribed 30-day time period under Article 24(1) of the COMESA Competition Regulations of 2004. Helios Towers is a UK-based telecommunications company, listed on the LSE and a constituent of the FTSE 250 stock index; it operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo within the COMESA region.

COMESA Competition Commission logo

As we previously reported in 2017 (here and here), to AAT’s knowledge the only other reported transaction that came close to being fined for a failure to be notified by the merging parties was the paints deal between Akzo Nobel and Sadolin / Crown Paints: “In that transaction, the parties boldly proclaimed that the CCC simply did not have any statutory jurisdiction at all,” says attorney Andreas Stargard, an expert in African competition law. Indeed, four years ago, Akzo’s spokespeople flatly claimed that their deal fell “outside the CCC’s purview,” as “[w]e do not have a merger going on; we are a fully independent plant, so COMESA does not come into the picture at all.”

The COMESA’s CID observed that the Parties should have filed their merger notification on 22nd April 2021 in accordance with Article 24 (1) of the Regulations, but breached it.

Interestingly, as to the comparatively low amount of the fine, the CCC took into account significant mitigating aspects pursuant to Article 26(6), including these five considerations:

  • The breach was unintentional;
  • The delay in filing did not yield any “discernible advantage” to the Parties;
  • The breach did not result in any loss or harm in the market;
  • The Parties cooperated with the Commission from the time they were engaged leading to the merger being notified on 2nd July 2021 following their initial engagement; and
  • The Parties have no record of contravention with the Regulations.

Therefore, the CCC merely imposed a 0.05% fine (instead of the statutory maximum under Art. 24(5) of 10% of the parties’ turnover in the preceding calendar year in the common market). AfricanAntitrust.com confirmed this 0.05% figure with a CCC executive, clarifying that this percentage amounted to a fine of U.S. $102,101. Mr. Stargard noted his understanding that the CCC’s positioning of this fine at the extremely low end of the permissible spectrum denotes not only the parties’ significant cooperation and other mitigating factors, outlined above, but also represents a nod by the Commission to the fact that this is the first-ever enforcement action of its kind, and therefore “should not set a precedent in both substance and amount.”

The Parties may appeal the decision (available to AAT readers here) to the full Board of Commissioners in accordance with Article 15(1)(d) of the Regulations as read together with Rule 24 (e) of the COMESA Competition Rules of 2004.

The Commission’s Registrar, Ms. Meti Disasa, stated that “the fine was the first of a kind for breach of the Regulations. The Commission therefore wishes to remind Undertakings in the Common Market to be cautious of the prescribed timeline for notifying mergers in under Article 24 (1) of the Regulations.” Ms. Disasa warned undertakings operating in the Common Market “to comply with all other parts of the Regulations especially with respect to anti-competitive conduct as the Commission shall henceforth not take lightly any breaches of the regional competition law,” according to the CCC’s press release, also noting that “the decision to fine has no impact on the Commission’s assessment of any competitive effects of the merger, which is still ongoing.”

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AfCFTA, Big Picture, COMESA, COVID-19, East Africa, event, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria

Podcast explores latest developments across Africa

The latest episode #122 of Sheppard Mullin’s popular NOTA BENE podcast features Primerio’s Andreas Stargard, exploring “Africa Q2 Check In: Economic Growth and Relevance.”

Africa continues to strive for economic growth through various trade partnerships and foreign investments, but long-standing challenges remain an impediment in certain respects. Is Twitter’s decision to open an African base in #Ghana any indication of the continent’s economic potential? We’re joined by #Africa competition and markets expert, Andreas Stargard, a co-founding senior member of Primerio Ltd., as he shares insights on Africa’s economic outlook in Q2 of 2021.

You can listen to it for free on all major ‘podcatchers,’ including here:

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COMESA, East Africa, economics, Uganda

Uganda misses $5m Common Market payments, gets “suspension”

As the local Daily Monitor reports, landlocked COMESA member state Uganda — ruled since January 1986 by authoritarian president Museveni — has failed to make requisite payments under the COMESA Treaty to the supra-national regional organization. Its arrears date back over two years, according to sources, and amount to roughly U.S. $4 to 5 million. Arrears carry with them a 1% per annum interest rate.

COMESA’s Secretary General has officially reprimanded the Ugandan government and placed the nation on the organization’s “sanction bracket.” Andreas Stargard, an attorney with Africa boutique law firm Primerio Ltd., notes that being sanctioned carries with it the nation-state’s loss of all privileges of COMESA membership, including its key free-trading benefits, during the duration of the sanctions being imposed. “It also means that Ugandan officials are not permitted to address official COMESA bodies, nor are Ugandan citizens permitted to be appointed to, or hired by, COMESA organs. It remains to be seen whether this suspension of Uganda will impact competition-law enforcement in any direct, appreciable way — what comes to mind is merger notification and the impact that Uganda’s being sanctioned may have on cooperation between the CCC and Ugandan authorities.”

The outstanding debt is all the more concerning as Museveni’s administration, in an attempt to cling to power after 35 years, recently reportedly spent large sums out of the state’s coffers on military-grade weaponry to prepare for the chaos precipitated by the recent hotly-disputed elections.

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cartels, collusion, COMESA, Kenya

Single Brush Stroke Stops Paints Cartel in its Tracks

Three years after an intricate East-African antitrust saga involving global European and Asian paint manufacturers, the industry is in the region’s competition-law news again.

Upon receiving allegations of cartel-like practices between paint makers and undisclosed distributors in 2018, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) launched an investigation into the suspected companies. The investigations later uncovered that four firms, namely: Crown Paints, Basco Products Limited, Kansai Plascon and Galaxy Paints (Companies) were guilty of collusion and price fixing which subjected the purchaser to unreasonably high prices for various paint brands. The CAK has since revealed this to Parliament and handed down its finding on the alleged ant-competitive behavior.

Crown Paints has a flagship brand called DuraCoat, which includes paint products for both interior and exterior finishing (painting and waterproofing). Dura Brands’ exposed collusion with the other three companies sparked fears that consumers have been buying these products at largely inflated prices. This is particularly significant given that Crown Paints is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange and is a heavyweight in the local paints market, with subsidiaries in Uganda and Tanzania.

Ruth Mosoti, Primerio Ltd.’s Kenyan competition practitioner, notes that the “CAK ultimately found that all four companies were in direct contravention of section 31 of the Competition Act, which addresses restrictive trade practices that prohibit companies from colluding with one another in order to determine product prices, as well as control when and to whom they will offer pricing discounts. CAK alleges that these are all anti-competitive behaviors that are to the detriment of the consumer as well as other, outside competitors.”

The authority making preliminary findings that the parties were involved in anti-competitive agreements on price fixing, discount structure and transport charges.” – Stated by the CAK in its latest report tabled before parliament.

In line with section 36(c) and (d) of the Act, the CAK is entitled to impose financial penalties “to remedy or reverse the infringement or the effects thereof” which may span “up to ten percent of the immediately preceding year’s gross annual turnover in Kenya of the undertaking or undertakings in question”.

Of the four Companies, Basco Products Limited was the only company that did not challenge the CAK’s preliminary ruling and paid the penalty amount of Sh20.799 million for the infringement. The company further agreed to abstain from committing any similar breach in the future. While the other companies initially appealed the decision handed down by the CAK, AAT staff have now learned that up to 3 of the accused firms have opted to settle, having withdrawn their appeals.

COMESA

It is also pivotal to note that on the 25th of February 2021, the COMESA Competition Commission (Commission) issued a cautionary note specifically pertaining to the consequences of forming barriers to trade.

The Commission made reference to Article 16 of the Regulations which prohibits “all agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations of undertakings and concerted practices which: (a) may affect trade between Member States; and (b) have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the Common Market”.

The abovementioned contravention is evident in the case at hand, with the Commission going on to state that it “…will work closely with the national competition authorities in the Member States to ensure that offenders are detected, investigated and punished”. Furthermore, there is particular focus on “hard enforcement through screening, detection, investigation and punishment of offenders”.

The detrimental consequences arising from the conduct of these firms is not only prejudicial towards the customer due to the fact that price-fixing also excludes rival organizations that do not agree to the collusive setting of prices from competing in the same market. Therefore, the steps taken by the CAK and COMESA are paving the way to a healthy and competitive marketplace.

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COMESA, East Africa, new regime

Chief enforcer departs CCC, Mwemba takes on role

February 17th, 2021: TODAY, the COMESA Competition Commission (“Commission”) released the following statement, wishing “to inform the general public that the tenure of office of Dr George Lipimile who was the Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission for the past ten years, came to an end on 31st January 2021.

Dr Lipimile was appointed by the COMESA Council of Ministers as the first Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission in February 2011. He served in this capacity at the Commission for ten years during which time he played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Commission as the first fully operational regional competition authority in Africa and the second fully functional regional competition authority in the world after the European Commission. Dr Lipimile tirelessly worked towards the enforcement of the COMESA Competition Regulations and Rules. He dedicated his time at the Commission in strengthening the institution with but not limited to:

  • Growth in its staff compliment;
  • Creating sound legal framework;
  • Processes and Procedures for enforcement of the Regulations;
  • Advocacy and technical assistance to COMESA Member States; and
  • Setting up the necessary corporate governance systems.

Further, the Commission wishes to announce to the general public that Dr Willard Mwemba has been appointed as the Acting Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission from 1st February 2021 until such time the substantive Director of the Commission is recruited. The Commission wishes to congratulate Dr Mwemba on his appointment as the Acting Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission.

Incoming Mwemba & outgoing Lipimile

Andreas Stargard, a Primerio competition lawyer who knows both men from having notified transactions to the CCC as well as socially, says that “an era is now concluded — namely the ‘Genesis Era’ of the CCC, as George was its very first, and thus formative, leader. That said, I am deeply assured by the appointment of Dr. Mwemba to his post as acting Director, as he is of utmost competence and I have no doubt will guide the Commission in the right direction in this new ‘CCC 2.0 Era’ after Dr. Lipimile’s departure.”

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AAT exclusive, AfCFTA, COMESA, EAC, East Africa, ECOWAS, fraud/corruption, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Telecoms

Common Markets & the Race for Power in Africa: a Podcast Interview

Africa is a continent of 1.2 billion people.  From a consumer potential standpoint it matches China or India.  Yet historically, it has suffered from the lingering shadows of its colonial past, in addition to its current fractures, hostility, and ever-present corruption.

The continent is emerging fast, however, and is quickly accelerating into the 21st Century marketplace both from an investment and growth opportunity. From the digital revolution and increased free trade, to innovation in various industries, Africa may be the next market frontier to unfold into accelerated multinational presence.

In this podcast episode (available gratis on Apple, Spotify, and Sheppard Mullin‘s web site), Michael P.A. Cohen is joined by Africa competition and markets expert, Andreas Stargard, as he shares his insight to help multinationals navigate the African landscape.

What we discuss in this Podcast episode:

  • What do the Africa markets look like from a multinational business opportunity perspective?
  • Which countries in Africa have established markets? Which ones have growth potential?
  • How and why has China’s investment and influence across Africa intensified over the last couple of decades?
  • What type of digital revolution is taking place in Africa?
  • Is there a huge opportunity for mobile money on the continent?
  • How is free trade shaping up across the African continent? How do the AfCFTA’s goals tie in?
  • What Free Trade cooperation agreements exist among the East, West and South African nations? Will they succeed?
  • Where is Africa leading innovations?
  • How will African wars and corruption impact its ability to grow a multinational marketplace?

Who’s speaking:

Michael Cohen is the creator of the Nota Bene podcast. He began his career as an Assistant Special Prosecutor, investigating and prosecuting organized crime involvement with the failure of local financial institutions in the early 1990s, and has since practiced globally at several top law firms. In 2015, Michael joined Sheppard Mullin’s storied antitrust practice with a goal of putting his 25 years experience to work to complement the firm’s longstanding antitrust litigation group, helping to bridge government antitrust enforcement in Washington, D.C. to the firm’s strengths in Brussels, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

A co-founding senior member of Primerio, a business advisory firm helping companies do business within Africa from a global perspective, Andreas Stargard is legal, strategic, and business advisor to companies and individuals across the globe.  He focuses on antitrust and competition advice, white-collar counseling, contract dispute and negotiation, and resolution of global business disputes, including cartel work, corruption allegations and internal investigations, intellectual property, and distribution matters.  He has written and spoken extensively on these topics and many others.  Andreas also advises clients on corporate compliance programmes that conform to local as well as global government standards, and has handled key strategic merger-notification questions, including evaluation of filing requirements, avoidance strategies, cross-jurisdictional cooperation, and the like.

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