South African Competition Commission… More Dawn Raids!

By AAT Senior Contributor, Michael-James Currie.

On 28 September 2016, the South African Competition Commission (SACC) conducted a further set of dawn raids. This time, on various cargo shipping liners based in the provinces of Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Western Cape.

The SACC indicated that “Hamburg Sud South Africa (Pty) Ltd, Maersk South Africa (Pty) Ltd, Safmarine (Pty) Ltd, Mediterranean Shipping Company (Pty) Ltd, Pacific International Line South Africa (Pty) Ltd and CMA CGM Shipping Agencies South Africa (Pty) Ltd have engaged in collusive practices to, inter alia, fix the incremental rates for the shipment of cargo from Asia to South Africa in contravention of the Competition Act”.

The investigation is allegedly a result of a complaint received from a member of public.

south_africaThe SACC has not provided an indication of the period over which conduct took place and whether this investigation relates to historical or on-going conduct. This is an important consideration in light of the introduction of criminalisation of cartel conduct, which came into effect as of 1 May 2016. In terms of the Section 73A of the Competition Amendment Act, any director or person with management authority may be held criminally liable for ‘causing’ or ‘knowingly acquiescing’ in cartel conduct.

Since the notion of criminal liability was put raised as far back as 2008, there have been substantial concerns raised about the effectiveness of the SACC’s corporate leniency policy which in effect, offers immunity to a company who whistle blows, from an administrative penalty only. The CLP does not offer immunity to any individual from criminal prosecution, as the discretion to prosecute an individual under Section 73A, rests solely with the National Prosecuting Authority.

The interplay between the introduction of criminal liability and dawn raids will, in our view, be quite significant as there have been a number of respondents who have thought to approach the SACC for leniency, off the back of a dawn raid. A decision which a company may think twice about if its directors may potentially be held criminally liable.

Regardless of the impact which the criminalisation of cartel conduct may have on the whistleblowing regime, the SACC remains committed to utilising dawn raids as one of its most powerful investigative tools.

The SACC has been strong proponent of dawn raids and despite having conducted its first dawn raids in the early 2000’s, the past 18 months has seen a marked spike in the number of dawn raids conducted across a broad range of sectors.

The shipping industry in particular has been the subject of significant attention from the South African Competition Authorities and last year saw substantial administrative penalties, of over R95 million, levied by way of a settlement agreement on WWL and NYK Shipping Liners respectively for having engaged cartel conduct in relation to certain shipping routes. This investigation, however, remains on-going.

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Second domino falls in SA liner-shipping cartel investigation

The M/V Thalatta, a WWL High Efficiency RoRo vessel

The M/V Thalatta, a WWL High Efficiency RoRo vessel (image (c) WWL)

WWL settles collusion allegations in South Africa for US $7,500,000

As we reported on 2 July 2015 (see “Shipping Cartel Update: NYK settles in South Africa“), the South African competition-law enforcers have had success in bringing members of the acknowledged international liner-shipping cartel to the settlement table, extracting R104 million (approximately $8,600,000) from NYK.

Now, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (“WWL”) has become the second investigated party to enter into a settlement agreement with the South African Competition Commission (“SACC”) — presumptively for a decent discount off the maximum possible fine, as outlined in greater detail below.

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On 30 July 2015, it was announced that WWL settled the SACC’s charges stemming from the investigation into the seven shipping companies for fixing prices, allocating markets and collusive tendering.

SACC found that WWL colluded on 11 tenders with its competitors in the transportation of motor vehicles by sea issued by several automotive manufacturers to and from South Africa.

WWL — a 50/50 Swedish/Norwegian liner-shipping conglomerate, which has had a representative office in South Africa since 2013 and previously had “a major Turn Key Project for a copper mine in Zambia, … creating a sub-Saharan hub for moving Breakbulk into and out of Africa” — settled for an amount of R95 million.  As Andreas Stargard, an attorney with the Africa advisory boutique Pr1merio, notes:

“This amount — in today’s dollar terms only about $7,500,000 — is a mere 0.25% of WWL’s global turnover of about $2.9 billion.  In other words, the company got away with only a tiny fraction [namely 2.5%] of the potential maximum fine, which under South African law would have been capped at $290 million or 10% of total group revenue.”

The SACC found that NYK colluded on 14 tenders with its competitors for the transportation of motor vehicles by sea issued by several automotive manufacturers to and from South Africa, including BMW, Toyota Motor Corporation, Nissan, and Honda among others.

The agency filed the WWL settlement agreement with the South African Competition Tribunal on 30 July 2015 for confirmation as an order of the Tribunal.

WWL’s Africa Ties

What is of particular note in the WWL matter is the company’s business commitment to the African continent.  As Mr. Stargard points out, WWL recently published a document entitled, “West Africa – The frontier of opportunity?” in which it states:

The outlook for Africa has long been seen as one of great promise, but with major challenges attached. It certainly is a place of great dimensions and great opportunities, but with immense development needs and complexities to be tackled. According to African Economic Outlook, a recent report published jointly by the OECD, the African Development Bank and the UN Development Program, Africa’s economic growth will gain momentum and reach 4.5 per cent in 2015 and 5 per cent in 2016.  

The world’s attention to Africa has largely been directed towards West Africa in the last few years, as some of the fastest growing economies were to be found there, as well as some of the world’s richest resource bases from oil to rare earth minerals. As of late, the shine has come off a little bit, with West African economies struggling with lower oil income, weakening currencies as well as a lack of economical and societal reform. The Ebola epidemic on top of this effectively served to slow the West African growth somewhat. The region is nevertheless expected to stage a recovery from the Ebola epidemic with 5 per cent growth in 2015.

West African growth is largely driven by the development in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and largest economy. Despite the large oil revenue dependency (which naturally is hurting from the recent decline in oil prices), the country has started diversifying its economic base. In the automotive industry, several OEMs have opened assembly plants for complete knock-downs, boosted by the increased import tax for finished vehicles. The slow process towards building more advanced manufacturing capabilities continues, but still remains some way off. 

Other economies in the region are smaller and even more dependent on resource exports. A few have been seeing quite positive development, like Ghana, but we still find some of Africa’s poorest countries in this region, highlighting the large contrasts to be found there. 

Trade patterns for vehicles and heavy equipment are, not surprisingly, dominated by imports, with Europe and Asia being the largest regional trade partners. 

In 2014, the single largest country exporting vehicles and heavy equipment to West Africa was the US followed by China, Japan and Germany. This illustrates the diverse geographical trade interests in the region. Trade has been developing strongly after the crisis, but has weakened over the past couple of years.

Long term, given its population and resource base, West Africa remains sure to be on everyone’s target list when it comes to capturing African opportunities.