More Criminal Anti-Cartel Enforcement in Africa? Some Thoughts on Nigeria

By AAT guest author, Osayomwanbor Bob Enofe, Sutherland School of Law Doctoral Scholar, UCD.

We recently wrote about the landmark enactment of the new South African competition legislation that makes hard-core price-fixing a criminal offence, subjecting cartelists to up to 10 years imprisonment.  Nigeria is usually not on the radar of antitrust practitioners, however, and certainly not in the criminal sense, either.  As regular readers of AAT know, the Republic of Nigeria has featured occasionally in our posts despite not having a functioning antitrust regime, yet.  As editor and Pr1merio director Andreas Stargard wrote in an article entitled “Nigerian antitrust?“, scholars and political activists alike have promoted the idea of establishing an antitrust regime in West Africa’s dominant economy: ‘Today, AfricanAntitrust adds its voice to the steady, though infrequent, discussion surrounding the possibility of a Nigerian competition-law regime.  In our opinion, it is not a question of “if” but “when”, and perhaps more importantly, “how“?’

Today, contributing author Bob Enofe adds his voice to the mix, and we are publishing one of his articles that originally appeared on Robert Connolly’s cartel capers blog.

Criminal Antitrust in Nigeria?

nigeriaThe Federal Republic of Nigeria is currently in the process of enacting a competition law, including to criminalise cartel activity amongst competitors. While such is in line with moves made by various other jurisdictions and theories of ‘rational actor’, sanction and deterrence, on ground realities suggest that criminalisation where transplanted might be seriously flawed.

From the late 1990s, and particularly in the year 2000, the Federal Government of Nigeria commenced moves to enact a Competition Law. Under such law, business cartel activity defined as agreements between competitors, aimed at distorting the process of competition and generating monopolistic rents, would be criminalised. The ‘Federal Competition Bill, 2002’, an executive bill drafted by the Nigerian Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), was titled: “a Bill for an Act to provide necessary conditions for market competition and to stimulate creative business activities, protect consumers, and promote the balanced development of the natural economy, by prohibiting restrictive contracts and business practices that substantially lessened competition”. It was also to be a Bill to regulate “possible abuses of dominant positions by businesses, and anti-competitive combines, and to establish the Federal Competition Commission, for effective implementation and enforcement of all the provisions of the bill”.  According to relevant sections of the bill, cartel agreements amongst competitors, including price fixing, bid rigging and market division, were also to be expressly criminalised. Clearly a robust and comprehensive bill, 16 years after introduction to the Nigerian National Assembly, the bill remains to be passed into law. Several amendments have since been presented, together with other bills presented by lawmakers. In every case, such bills have either stalled at first reading stage, or in certain cases disappeared from the legislative process. In one of such instances, an amendment of the above bill (The Federal Trade and Competition Commission Bill, 2006) was “vehemently” objected to by distinguished Senators, prompting governmental withdrawal. Amongst reasons advanced for the reception accorded the bill included that there was no need for a distinct ‘competition commission’, in the face of an already existent consumer protection council in Nigeria; other legislators simply complained about a proliferation of “too many commissions” in the country. Commentators have alluded to overt ignorance and lack of particular inclination for the subject, on the part of Nigerian Senators, as in reality underlining the reception accorded the bill.

In a paper recently presented at the #SLSA2016, ‘Developing Countries, Nigeria, and Cartel Criminalisation: of Transplantation and Desirability’ I had outlined how Nigeria’s attempt to introduce a competition law, and in particular criminalise cartel activity, reveals a (marked) lack of societal inclination towards competition law and prior poor advocacy on the part of government. Social norms are crucial to the effectiveness of law reform. Desirable social norms ensures amongst other things that prohibited conduct will be reported and discovered, even without direct enforcement or investigativeBob Enofe intervention, thereby complementing stretched law enforcement efforts.[1] Such also imply that prosecutors will be willing to enforce and vigorously police provisions of the law where passed, and in the case of the judiciary, stringent sentences will also be applied—or at least not deliberately avoided—so as to facilitate the deterrence potential of the applicable law. Perhaps most crucially for Nigeria, existence of such norms also mean that law makers are incentivised to support reform efforts, while the chances of ‘hijack’ by private interests will be slim. Absent such norms the chances of Nigeria’s competition and cartel criminalisation law, even when passed, could be (remarkably) marginal.

Heightened advocacy, together with a careful selection of test cases once the law is enacted is advanced as capable of remedying the above situation. In the face of sub-par institutions characteristic of the Nigerian context however (including severe limitations in the operation of the rule of law), abilities to so ‘guide’ social norms will be in reality seriously limited. An online petition regarding corruption amongst Nigerian senators, for example, reflect in part difficulties that could frustrate transplantation of cartel criminalisation, absent independent, effective, anti-corruption reforms in the country.

Neoliberal theories of rational actors, sanction and deterrence, imply to large extents a similar existence of contexts as have underlined effectiveness in western societies. In many cases, on the ground realities suggest that theories where transplanted, could be seriously flawed.

As I have argued in another paper currently under review (details to be communicated soon, hopefully!), one size cannot fit all- with developing countries and cartel criminalisation, the point gains extra force. To the extent that fines and other administrative means of enforcement are limited in ability to effectively curtail cartel practices, suggests a need for continuation of relevant research. Criminalisation hardly represents the ‘Golden Fleece’.

Footnote:

[1] See Stephan, Andreas, ‘Cartel laws undermined: Corruption, social norms, and collectivist business cultures’ (2010) Journal of Law and Society 345-367, See Maher, Imelda, The Institutional Structure of Competition Law, in Dowdle, Gillespie and Maher (eds) Asian Capitalism and the Regulation of Competition: Towards a Regulatory Geography of Global Competition Law (Cambridge University Press, 2013) 55, See Gal, Michal  ‘The Ecology of Antitrust: Preconditions for Competition Law Enforcement in Developing Countries.’ (2004) Competition, Competitiveness and Development 20-38.

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Criminalisation of antitrust offences: not on short-term horizon

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Competition Commission not ready to pursue antitrust cases criminally – plus: AAT‘s recommendations

The newly (permanently) appointed Competition Commissioner, Tembinkosi Bonakele, has referred to a “phased” implementation of the 2009 Competition Amendment Act.  The legislation technically criminalised hard-core antitrust offences such as bid-rigging or price-fixing cartels.  However, it has not yet been implemented or effectively signed into law.

According to a MoneyWeb/ZA report, both he and his boss, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, had discussions on how and when to implement “to ensure that the necessary institutional capacity is available to apply the amendments.”  The initially effective provisions (relating to the SACC’s market-inquiry powers) went into effect last year, while the criminalisation provisions remain unimplemented.

In a somewhat remarkable and prudent self-assessment, the minister and SACC have now admitted that the Commission currently lacks “the institutional capacity needed to comply with the higher burden of proof in criminal cases,” according to the report.

One notable aspect of potential discord lies in not only in the different standard of proof in civil vs. criminal matters (“more probable than not” vs. “beyond a reasonable doubt”), but perhaps more importantly can be found on the procedural side, preventing rapid implementation of the law: There has been historic friction between various elements of the RSA’s police forces and (special) prosecutorial services, and the power to prosecute crimes notably remains within the hands of the National Prosecuting Authority, supported in its investigations by the South African Police Service.

Historical and Legislative Background – and a bit of Advice

Starting in the spring and summer of 2008, the rumoured legislative clamp-down on corrupt & anti-competitive business practices by the government made the RSA business papers’ headlines.

During a presentation I gave at a Johannesburg conference in September that year (“Criminalising Competition Law: A New Era of ‘Antitrust with Teeth’ in South Africa? Lessons Learned from the U.S. Perspective“), I quoted a few highlights among them, asking somewhat rhetorically whether these were the words of fearmongers or oracles?

  • “Competition Bill to Pave Way for Criminal Liability”
  • “Tough on directors”
  • “Criminalisation of directors by far most controversial”
  • “Bosses Must Pay Fines Themselves”
  • “New leniency regime to turn up heat on cartels”
  • “New era in the application of competition policy in SA”
  • “Likely to give rise to constitutional challenges”
  • “New Bill On Cartels is a Step Too Far”
  • “Fork out huge sums or face jail time if found guilty”
  • “Disqualification from directorships … very career limiting”

I also quoted international precedent-setting institutions and enforcers’ recommendations, all of which tended towards the positive effect of criminal antitrust penalties:

OECD, 3rd Hard-Core Cartel Report (2005):

  • Recommends that governments consider the introduction and imposition of criminal antitrust sanctions against individuals to enhance deterrence and incentives to cooperate through leniency programmes.

U.S. Department of Justice, Tom Barnett (2008):

  • “Jail time creates the most effective, necessary deterrent.”
  • “[N]othing in our enforcement arsenal has as great a deterrent as the threat of substantial jail time in a United States prison, either as a result of a criminal trial or a guilty plea.”

While the presentation contained a lot more detail, the key recommendations that I summarised would seem to continue to hold true today, and may serve as guide-posts for Commissioner Bonakele and the EDD ministry:

Cornerstones of a successful criminal antitrust regime
  • Crystal-clear demarcation of criminal vs. civil conduct
  • Highly effective leniency policy also applies to individuals
  • Standard of proof must be met beyond a reasonable doubt
  • No blanket liability for negligent directors – only actors liable
  • Plea bargaining to be used as an effective tool to reduce sentence
  • Clear pronouncements by enforcement agency to help counsel predict outcomes
Demarcation of criminal vs civil antitrust conduct in U.S.

Demarcation of criminal vs civil antitrust conduct in U.S.

Executives Beware: The Long-Arm of the U.S. Government Strikes Again

Following up on our initial DOJ extradition victory post last week, here is a more in-depth look at the recent developments in worldwide criminal antitrust cases, and notably their overlap with parallel corruption / fraud / FCPA investigations.  Paul Hastings and Nortons Inc. – jointly covering North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa – have extensive experience handling the defense of competition-law and FCPA-based investigations into multi-national corporations and individual executives.  The piece below was written by Jeremy Evans, partner in Paul Hastings’ D.C. office, and AAT editor Andreas Stargard, in Brussels.

Jeremy P. Evans Andeas Stargard

The long-arm of the U.S. government and its increasing willingness to pursue foreign nationals for alleged violations of U.S. law was further in evidence last Friday when the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Justice Department announced (press release here) that it had extradited Romano Pisciotti, an Italian national, from Germany to the U.S. on a charge filed more than 3½ years ago that he participated in a price-fixing cartel involving the sale of marine hose.

(Full PDF of article )

Ian Norris, then-CEO of Morgan Crucible, sentenced to serve 18 months in federal U.S. prison

Ian Norris, then-CEO of Morgan Crucible, sentenced to serve 18 months in federal U.S. prison

Source: BSO / via CBS Miami

Pisciotti is the first foreign national to be extradited to the U.S. purely for an antitrust charge, although he joins a large number of foreign nationals in recent years to have been charged criminally by the Division in cartel cases, many of whom have agreed to plea deals requiring them to serve time in U.S. prisons. The Antitrust Division is not alone in its pursuit of foreign nationals; the Fraud Division of the Justice Department has also pursued extraditions of foreign nationals for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in recent years. Indeed, Pisciotti follows his countryman Flavio Ricotti, who, in 2010, also was arrested in Germany and extradited to the U.S. following his indictment on an FCPA charge. It is clear that in both antitrust cartel and FCPA investigations, the U.S. government is growing ever-confident in its power and ability to bring uncooperative foreign executives to the U.S. to face criminal charges in the U.S., even for conduct that occurred outside the U.S.

The Marine Hose Investigation

Pisciotti’s extradition is the latest chapter in the long-running marine hose cartel investigation. In May 2007, the Antitrust Division arrested eight foreign nationals traveling on business in the U.S. and charged them for their roles in an antitrust conspiracy involving the sale of marine hose used to transport oil. The Division’s investigation was part of a multi-national law enforcement effort that included the European Commission and the U.K.’s Office of Fair Trading and much of the conduct at issue was alleged to have happened overseas. In the years that followed, the Antitrust Division secured over $54 million in fines from five companies, and nine individuals served jail time arising from their alleged involvement in the cartel. Two of these dispositions are worth particular note. The first involved the separate plea agreements by Bridgestone Corporation and Misao Hioki, a Japanese executive, each of which agreed to plead guilty to both an antitrust charge for involvement in the alleged conspiracy, as well as an FCPA charge relating to corrupt payments to government officials in various Latin American countries. These appear to be the only instances in which either a company or an executive has pled to both antitrust and FCPA charges arising from the same investigation. The second involved three British executives arrested in the U.S. at the onset of the investigation. Under a unique arrangement, the three were charged and sentenced by authorities in both the U.S. and the U.K., but the U.S. plea deals permitted them to return to the U.K. where they served their prison sentences concurrently.

Prior to Pisciotti’s extradition, the last criminal disposition involving an executive in the marine hose investigation occurred in 2009. But, what was not publicly known until recently is that the Antitrust Division had secured a sealed indictment of Pisciotti in August 2010 alleging that he rigged bids, fixed prices, and allocated markets in the sale of marine hose. It was this indictment that led to Pisciotti’s arrest in Germany last June and the subsequent extradition proceedings. The Division likely followed the same procedure that it did with Ricotti in the earlier FCPA case, using Pisciotti’s sealed indictment to obtain an Interpol red notice, effectively an international arrest warrant. Under the principle of reciprocal or dual criminality, countries often will only extradite individuals to the U.S. if an extradition treaty exists between the two countries that requires a person’s conduct to be a crime in both countries. Bid rigging is a criminal offense in Germany, thus ensnaring Pisciotti transiting through Germany on business travel and leading to his arrest in a country prepared to extradite him. Pisciotti was flown to Miami on Thursday and arraigned in federal court the following day. He now faces charges that could result in a maximum of 10 years in prison and $1 million in criminal fines.

The U.S. Government and the Ever-Shrinking World

AAG Bill Baer

Bill Baer, the assistant attorney general of the Antitrust Division, heralded Pisciotti’s “first of its kind extradition” as a “significant step” in the Division’s cooperation efforts with foreign antitrust enforcers. And, while it marks a new frontier for the Division, it can also be viewed as merely the latest example of the aggressive approach taken by the U.S. government in recent years toward foreign executives in international cartel and bribery cases. A little over a decade ago, the Division agreed to permit foreign executives in cartel cases to plead guilty and serve prison sentences of just a few months. But the more recent plea deals announced in seemingly ever-expanding auto parts cartel cases have seen well over twenty foreign executives face up to two years in jail.

Our experience in these and other cases also teaches that the Antitrust Division will routinely seek U.S. prison terms for conduct that occurred not merely partially or largely outside the U.S., but indeed was wholly undertaken on foreign soil. The example of Pisciotti’s extradition powerfully reaffirms that executives now must worry about the possibility of being extradited to the U.S. if they refuse to cooperate with the Antitrust Division and plead guilty in a cartel investigation, even in situations where the conduct at issue occurred exclusively or mostly overseas. This is in part because an increasing number of countries have criminalized antitrust conduct, or are in the process of doing so, meaning that there are now more jurisdictions than ever willing to extradite an executive for cartel offenses, either at home or when traveling abroad, even in situations where a sealed indictment may leave the executive ignorant of any potential risk.

These same government tactics exist in bribery and FCPA cases. Flavio Ricotti and Ousama Naaman are but two examples of foreign nationals who were extradited to the U.S. in the last five years to face FCPA charges, each apprehended overseas after the U.S. government obtained an indictment in federal court, and each charged based on conduct outside of the U.S. It appears that the U.S. government will continue to take an aggressive enforcement approach toward uncooperative executives, further highlighting the concern for senior foreign executives and their companies caught up in cartel and FCPA investigations.

Price-fixers beware: U.S. DOJ scores first-ever pure antitrust-based extradition from E.U.

From DOJ: First-Ever Pure Antitrust Extradition

In what may well affect African and other international price-fixers going forward, the spectre of U.S. extradition for criminal antitrust charges has been reinforced by the recent successful DOJ extradition request in the “Marine Hose” cartel.  An Italian national was extradited from Germany to face bid-rigging charges.

Ian Norris, then-CEO of Morgan Crucible, sentenced to serve 18 months in federal U.S. prison

Ian Norris, then-CEO of Morgan Crucible, sentenced to serve 18 months in federal U.S. prison

“First-ever”?! Some readers may recall the carbon products cartel and a certain Mr. Ian Norris, the then-Morgan Crucible chief executive, who had been extradited from the U.K. to the United States back in 2010.  Yet, that seven-year long procedure was based not a pure antitrust charge — rather, he was extradited on a technicality, if you will, namely the “obstruction of justice” charge, given the lack of reciprocal or dual criminality of the underlying price-fixing offense in the two countries at the time the competition offense had been committed in the early 1990s.  Norris’ 1 1/2 year prison sentence ended in November 2011.

The Marine Hose cartel extradition is different: In this case, the DOJ succeeded, for the first time ever, in securing an extradition solely on a competition-law offense being charged.

Source: BSO / via CBS Miami

What follows is the DOJ press release text (with added links):

WASHINGTON — Romano Pisciotti, an Italian national, was extradited from Germany on a charge of participating in a conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition by rigging bids, fixing prices and allocating market shares for sales of marine hose sold in the United States and elsewhere, the Department of Justice announced today. This marks the first successfully litigated extradition on an antitrust charge.

Pisciotti, a former executive with Parker ITR Srl, a marine hose manufacturer headquartered in Veniano, Italy, was arrested in Germany on June 17, 2013. He arrived in the Southern District of Florida, in Miami, yesterday and is scheduled to make his initial appearance today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Ft. Lauderdale, at 11:00 a.m. EDT.

“This first of its kind extradition on an antitrust charge allows the department to bring an alleged price fixer to the United States to face charges of participating in a worldwide conspiracy,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “This marks a significant step forward in our ongoing efforts to work with our international antitrust colleagues to ensure that those who seek to subvert U.S. law are brought to justice.”

Marine hose is a flexible rubber hose used to transfer oil between tankers and storage facilities. During the conspiracy, the cartel affected prices for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales of marine hose and related products sold worldwide.

According to a one-count felony indictment filed under seal on Aug. 26, 2010, and ordered unsealed on Aug. 5, 2013, in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida, Pisciotti carried out the conspiracy by agreeing during meetings, conversations and communications to allocate shares of the marine hose market among the conspirators; use a price list for marine hose in order to implement the conspiracy; and not compete for customers with other marine hose sellers either by not submitting prices or bids or by submitting intentionally high prices or bids, all in accordance with the agreements reached among the conspiring companies. As part of the conspiracy, Pisciotti and his conspirators provided information received from customers in the United States and elsewhere about upcoming marine hose jobs to a co-conspirator who served as the coordinator of the conspiracy. That coordinator acted as a clearinghouse for bidding information that was shared among the conspirators, and was paid by the manufacturers for coordinating the conspiracy. The department said the conspiracy began at least as early as 1999 and continued until at least May 2007. Pisciotti was charged with joining and participating in the conspiracy from at least as early as 1999 until at least November 2006.

Pisciotti is charged with violating the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million criminal fine for individuals. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

As a result of the department’s ongoing marine hose investigation, five companies, including Parker ITR; Bridgestone Corp. of Japan; Manuli SPa of Italy’s Florida subsidiary; Trelleborg of France; and Dunlop Marine and Oil Ltd, of the United Kingdom, and nine individuals have pleaded guilty.

The investigation is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I Section, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) of the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Navy Criminal Investigative Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The U.S. Marshals Service and other law enforcement agencies from multiple foreign jurisdictions are also investigating or assisting in the ongoing matter. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance.

Family feud: Which S.A. agency gets the first bite at the apple?

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Why is the South African government flexing its anti-fraud and corruption laws in the long-running investigation of potential bid-rigging in the construction sector, when it could perhaps more straightforwardly apply its competition law — and only that — to the alleged offences?  In its role as the antitrust watchdog, the SA Competition Commission has been attempting to induce guilty co-conspirators to seek leniency or corporate immunity from prosecution for cartel offences under the country’s Competition Act in exchange for information on rigged bids for construction projects.

Corporate leniency is one thing — personal liability for fraud or other racketeering charges is quite another…  Individual employees or directors of the leniency applicants should beware the double jeopardy they are exposed to, personally, when their employers ink settlements with the CC: The National Prosecuting Authority is not using the country’s civil-offence based competition law to pursue the alleged wrongdoing, even though the accusations raised by them would fall rather neatly within the category of prohibited horizontal agreements among competitors (i.e., cartel conduct).  Rather, the prosecution is applying the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, which — unlike the Competition Act — criminalises the illicit behaviour that allegedly took place.

On the policy side, had the as-of-yet dormant Competition Amendment Act 2009 come into force and the competition law therefore criminalisation “teeth”, we here at AfricanAntitrust.com are wondering whether we’d be seeing parallel, ongoing dual-agency investigations on a scale such as this — or rather an initial battle for jurisdiction between the CC and the NPA’s Hawks?  The S.A. family feud between the twin siblings, fraud laws and antitrust? The purely legal question of “double jeopardy”, raised above, would doubtless also figure in the debate who gets to enforce which law(s).  One of the CC’s public-relations managers, Trudi Makhaya, recently hinted at the potential for greater enforcement powers of the Competition Commission, mentioning the “pending amendments to the Competition Act”. For now, the so-called Construction Fast Track Settlement Project will have to keep churning out non-criminal settlements with offenders.

This specific post will serve as a lead-up into the broader arena of criminalisation of antitrust law, which we will cover soon in its own category.  It brings with it fascinating questions beyond those raised here (including, for instance, the potential for dis-incentives to corporate executives to seek leniency).

As always, we welcome your opinion — this is a question that will sooner or later have to be answered.