Media PAIA request reveals evidence underlying South African Competition Commission dawn raid

By Tyla-Lee Coertzen

Following the South African Competition Commission’s (“SACC”) dawn raids conducted on eight major South African insurance firms in August of 2022, a popular South African news resource, News24, was successful in a Promotion of Access to Information (“PAIA”) request to gain access to the court documents which granted the SACC permission to conduct the dawn raid.

In our previous update on the matter, we recorded that the SACC conducted a dawn raid on the following insurance firms: Discovery Limited; Hollard Insurance Group (Pty) Ltd; Momentum, a division of MNI Limited; Old Mutual Limited; BrightRock Life Limited; FMI, a division of Bidvest Life Limited; Professional Provident Society Limited, and South African National Life Assurance Company (Pty) Ltd. The dawn raids were conducted as part of the SACC’s ongoing investigation into potential collusion between insurance firms.

Collusion is described as a per se prohibition in the South African Competition Act, 89 of 1998 (as amended) (“the Act”). This means that competitors who are found to have colluded with each other may not raise efficiency defences. Mere participation in a restrictive horizontal practice will attract administrative penalties and imprisonment.

The PAIA request provided News24 with access to certain evidence including emails circulated between insurers which the SACC believes to have taken place since 1989. According to News24, the SACC alleges that historically, the insurers formulated a ‘rate book’ in which information regarding information regarding prices of certain products were recorded. This rate book was allegedly exchanged between insurers. Thereafter, it is alleged that the insurers exchanged floppy disks with sensitive pricing information. In more recent times, it is alleged that pricing information was uploaded onto password protected online platforms, and the passwords were shared between insurers. The SACC also alleges that technical information regarding the design of products were shared, thereby allowing insurers to decrease competition amongst themselves. To see the full News24 article on the matter, click here.

Primerio director, John Oxenham, who notably acted for the leniency applicant in the infamous bread cartel says: “After a lengthy hiatus, it is apparent that the SACC is using significant investigative tools in an effort to uncover and prosecute potential cartel conduct. In the past, this mechanism of investigation, namely dawn raids, has been of significant effect in assisting the agencies to fulfil its mandate of preventing corrupt activity.”

Fellow Primerio director. Michael-James Currie said “one of the key challenges, for all parties involved, in cases where the alleged conduct was often historic, there is a lack of credible witnesses to contextualize certain evidence. It very often happens that evidence, when considered in isolation, presents a very different picture than what truly transpired”.