Enforcement Alert: MU Competition Commission to Permit Cartel Initiators to Seek Leniency

The Competition Commission of Mauritius (CCM) has announced changes to its leniency programme. Though the CCM did have a functioning leniency programme in place since its inception in 2009, the it was often criticised as being inadequate.

Competition lawyer John Oxenham notes that under the existing programme, firms which were found to be cartel ‘initiators’ (an enterprise which has coerced others into a collusive agreement) did not qualify to receive any immunity or other benefit.

John Oxenham

John Oxenham

Oxenham believes that this had led to uncertainty and prevented companies from applying for leniency (which required full disclosure of anti-competitive conduct), as firms may be unsure whether or not they would be considered to be ‘instigators’ (and so be disqualified from receiving immunity from prosecution). This meant that firms often had to weigh the risk of being considered an ‘initiator’ against the risk of prosecution to ultimately decide on whether to apply for leniency.

The CCM had previously identified this aspect as a potential area of concern, which led to the temporary special amnesty programmes under which firms who believed themselves to be ‘initiators’ could apply for leniency. This, according to the CCM, led to various successful leniency applications and related prosecutions.

In its media release of 23 January 2018, CCM executive director Deshmuk Kowlessure stated that “[w]ith respect to leniency programmes, we have observed that several advanced competition authorities have adopted leniency for cartel initiators and coercers…” “Likewise, the CCM has taken a step beyond traditional leniency programmes and we are now extending the possibility for initiators or coercers to apply for leniency.”

The recent amendment, therefore, seeks to formalise the CCM’s previous (temporary) amnesty programme for ‘initiators’ by allowing them to approach the CCM for leniency in return for a 50% reduction in the administrative penalty otherwise payable, says fellow Primerio Ltd. antitrust attorney Andreas Stargard.  “This level of fine reduction is in line with what the CCM has been offering in the past to leniency applicants who were not ‘first through the door’.  Unlike certain other countries, such as the United States, where the Department of Justice offers leniency benefits only to the first successful applicant, Mauritius allows for successive, reduced penalties to subsequent amnesty seekers.”

Corporate leniency policies are widely considered to be the most effective tool in the prosecution of cartel conduct. The CCM’s decision to include ‘initiators’ among those eligible to participate, therefore, not only strengthens its leniency programme but is also a significant step towards the prosecution and enforcement of cartel conduct in Mauritius, as more leniency applications directly imply more prosecutions of fellow cartelists.

Oxenham notes that the inclusion of initiators into the CCM’s official corporate leniency policy is welcomed from a business perspective, as it alleviates the concerns prospective leniency applicants may have previously had: “It will certainly lead to an increase in the amount of leniency applications received by the CCM”.

According the CCM’s media release, its guideline for leniency applicants will be amended accordingly and an explanatory note will be made available on its website in due course.

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