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Competition investigations

The UK and European competition authorities have extensive powers to investigate suspected breaches of competition law. Fines are growing ever larger: the highest single cartel fine of €896 million was imposed on Saint Gobain in 2008 for its part in the car glass cartel.  But as well as the ability to impose fines on companies, the UK authorities have criminal penalties at their disposal to punish individuals, and powers to disqualify directors for lengthy periods.

Even when they are ultimately cleared of any wrong doing, companies under investigation can experience damage to their share price and reputation. Competition investigations can be oppressive and costly. The threat of criminal sanctions can be especially daunting for those implicated.

If your company is under investigation, you need lawyers who understand the whole process from start to finish and can advise you in a practical, straightforward way on appropriate tactics at each stage. We have this understanding and approach derived from our culture and our strong experience in advising on investigations.

We have acted on some of the very largest European Commission and UK investigations and on the increasing numbers of investigations by competition authorities and sector regulators of individual member states. Investigations can frequently escalate and being able to predict where an investigation is headed is crucial.

We are familiar with how the regulators work and think: several members of our team have spent time working for the Commission, the Office of Fair Trading and other regulators. We understand when to take a robust approach and when the need for an ongoing constructive relationship with the authority outweighs the advantages of an aggressive defence strategy.

We have a strong track record of successful leniency applications. We can advise you on the tactics and approach to securing leniency, including handling the  difficult HR issues that can arise when trying to strike a balance between disciplining employees who may have been involved in cartel activities and securing their cooperation in making the leniency application. We have also been involved in negotiating groundbreaking settlement agreements.

Experience

Eversheds Sutherland represents one of the world’s largest commercial vehicle manufacturers in relation to an investigation launched by the European Commission in January 2011, in relation to suspected breaches of EU competition rules.  The Commission began the investigation by carrying out unannounced inspections at the premises of a number of vehicle manufacturers in several Member States.  The Commission raid came four months after the Office of Fair Trading began a joint criminal and civil probe into suspected anti-competitive behaviour in relation to commercial vehicle manufacturers in the UK. 

Eversheds Sutherland is advising on both the EU and UK investigations, which involved attending dawn raids to give strategic support and advice, and leading the response to detailed requests for information from both the Commission and the OFT.  We have also advised on and supported the client’s internal investigation into the allegations made by the Commission and the OFT.  Both investigations involved the complex analysis of the application of competition law, carrying out a large number of interviews, and the management and scrutiny of extremely large volumes of hard-copy and electronic data. 

 

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