In a relatively rare northwestern excursion on the continent, we are reporting today that the Moroccan competition authority (the Competition Council, or “CC”) based in Fez, which has operated only since late 2018, issued its first-ever gun-jumping fine to Swiss construction/chemicals firm Sika Aktiengesellschaft. Sika will have to pay (unless it exercises its right to a judicial appeal of this inaugural MCC decision, which it appears the company has waived and agreed to pay the) approx. $1m in fines, per the recent Article 19 fining decision made on April 28, 2022.
The underlying conduct consisted of Sika’s May 2019 acquisition of 100% of the capital and voting rights of its French competitor, Financière Dry Mix Solutions SAS, with business activities in and economic ties to Morocco, via its “Sodap” in-country subsidiary. Sika – the largest construction chemicals firm worldwide, according to its own marketing materials – likewise conducts business in Morocco, in addition to 100 other countries globally.
According to the MCC, the parties purportedly failed to notify the transaction pursuant to the mandatory provisions in Arts. 12-14 of the Moroccan competition act (Loi no. 104-12 of 2014) and thus caused the MCC to open its first gun-jumping investigation, leading to this — not insignificant — fine that has now been issued by the Council. The original liability finding was made previously, in MCC decision n°134/D/2021 (dated 6th December 2021).
Under the domestic merger-control regime, a notifiable transactions exists when:
two or more previously independent undertakings merge;
one or more persons, already controlling at least one undertaking, acquire, directly or indirectly, whether by purchase of securities or assets, by contract or by any other means, control of the whole or parts of one or more undertakings; and
one or more undertakings acquire, directly or indirectly, whether by purchase of securities or assets, by contract or by any other means, control of the whole or parts of one or more other undertakings.
To avoid similar mishaps from happening in the future, the MCC — in collaboration with the General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises (CGEM) — held a conference and issued a legal compliance guide for businesses active in Morocco in January 2022. The MCC’s president, Ahmed Rahhou, expressed his hope that the Guidebook would “allow companies to avoid being in breach of the law and to know their rights and duties especially in terms of competition law.”
S.A. Competition Tribunal imposes record fine for missed merger filing in healthcare
By AAT guest author Meghan Eurelle
On 7 April 2016, the South African Competition Tribunal (“Tribunal”) confirmed that merger parties Life Healthcare Group Proprietary Limited and Joint Medical Holdings Limited had entered into a consent agreement with record-breaking consequences. The two hospital groups admitted to not complying with the Competition Act, 1998 (“the Act”) by failing to notify the competition authorities of their merger and to obtain the required approval prior to the merger being implemented; and subsequently agreed to jointly pay an administrative penalty of 10 million Rand, or approximately U.S. $690,000. (Interestingly, the parties also conceded that they were guilty of fixing the price of services back in 2004 but the Tribunal dropped these charges.)
The R10-million administrative penalty is a record amount for gun-jumping, or the failure to notify the competition authorities of a merger. Previously, the highest penalty for a failure to notify was just over R1-million. The new record penalty follows numerous warnings by the Competition Commission (“Commission”) that it intended to materially increase penalties for failure to notify mergers — says Andreas Stargard, an antitrust practitioner with Pr1merio advisors, “South Africa has a suspensory merger-notification system, like most international antitrust regimes do. And unlike other African countries, such as Senegal or Mauritius, the domestic S.A. competition legislation prohibits transacting parties from effecting the transfer of control or beneficial ownership prior to obtaining clearance from the authorities.”
In terms of the Act, transactions that are defined as “intermediate mergers” and “large mergers” must be notified to the Commission and may only be lawfully implemented if it has been approved, with or without conditions, by the relevant competition authorities. Small mergers do not have to be notified in the ordinary course and may be implemented without approval unless required by the Commission.
Merger notification thresholds in South Africa remain as follows:
Acquiring and Target firm (merger group)
Combined assets and/or turnover of at least R6.6-billion.
Assets and/or turnover of at least R190-million.
Combined assets and/or turnover equals or exceeds R560-million but is less than R6.6-billion.
Assets and/or turnover equals or exceeds R80-million but is less than R190-million.
Combined assets and/or turnover of less than R560-million.
Assets and/or turnover of less than R80-million.
In light of the above, it serves as an important reminder to parties that they ensure compliance with the competition authorities and the Act so as to avoid costly consequences.