Individuals who have come to the attention of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and European Commission for anti-competitive and cartel behaviour are increasingly at risk of criminal investigation. The requirement for the authorities to prove dishonesty has been removed, making conviction far easier.
The UK’s civil regime means that companies caught up in cartels and anti-competitive practices such as price-fixing, bid rigging, limiting the supply of goods and market sharing face multi-million-pound fines.
For individuals, who are often unaware they are breaking the law, it is a criminal offence with a maximum five-year prison sentence for those found guilty. The stakes are high and those accused need expert, trusted advisers who know the law inside out.
Our competition and cartel investigations lawyers have advised companies and individuals caught up in the UK’s most high-profile cartel cases. We have an envied success rate for clients facing both criminal prosecutions and civil proceedings by the CMA.
We have experience of complex investigations many with a multi-jurisdictional element. In the US, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been particularly active in investigating and prosecuting international cartels that impact the US market, while the European Commission has handed down multi-million-pound fines for anti-competitive behaviour.
How we can help
Criminal cartels is one area of the law where the CMA has the power to grant criminal immunity to individuals under its leniency policy.
If you are implicated in a CMA cartel investigation or are seeking immunity under its leniency policy, our cartel investigations lawyers have experience of complex, multi-national investigations.
We have vast experience of advising companies and individuals across many sectors at every stage of the investigation. From advising on dawn raids and interviews under caution, to negotiating leniency and settlements, and advising directors who are facing disqualification for competition breaches. Our reputation for challenging enforcement agencies is unrivalled.
- Instructed by high-net-worth owner managers of a construction group which, together with several other UK companies, is the subject of a large CMA investigation into anti-competitive behaviour. It has been widely publicised in the construction press and millions of documents have been seized. The investigation is expected to conclude towards the end of 2021
- Advised three directors in concurrent criminal and civil cartel investigations launched by the CMA. It was the first known case where the CMA actively used covert intelligence to substantiate an investigation. The case involved alleged cartel activity between three prominent companies in the construction industry. During the investigation one director, who was represented by another firm, was charged and pleaded guilty. No criminal proceedings were brought against our clients. We represented the company in the subsequent civil investigation and a settlement was agreed with the CMA
- Acted for a director in the SFO prosecution of O’Neil and others in suspected large scale cartel activity in the generic drugs market. The SFO prosecuted the case as a conspiracy to defraud. Throughout the proceedings we maintained that conduct was not criminal. Complex legal arguments followed, with the House of Lords deciding against the SFO. The failed prosecution cost the public purse in excess of £50m
- Advised a senior director in an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) investigation into alleged cartel activity by JJB Sports. The OFT investigated JJB and rival Sports Direct after JJB blew the whistle on a “suspected agreement or concerted practice to dampen competition in the sports retail market”. The OFT closed the investigation and no charges were made in respect of the alleged cartel
- Advised three directors of a furniture company in a criminal investigation by the CMA. We made successful representations and no charges were brought against our clients. We advised in the subsequent Competition Act civil proceedings. The matter concluded without the need for litigation and a settlement was agreed with the CMA
- Advised a leading construction company in respect of the widely reported OFT ‘mass’ investigation into cover pricing, securing no action or fines