When EU’s competition authorities carry out one of its so-called dawn raids, the only thing the companies involved can really be sure of is that they must arm themselves with patience.
This is also apparent in the spectacular case against a number of the world’s major line companies, including German Hapag-Lloyd and Denmark’s Maersk Line, which were among the few companies, involved in the set of alleged criminal offences, to confirm they have been raided.
The case is still pending since Maersk Line, according to ShippingWatch’s sources, in April 2013 at the latest received a request for information regarding the case from EU’s competition authorities. According to several major international law firms such as Watson, Fairley & Williams or Holman Fenwick Willan, several years could pass before the companies can expect a settlement. According to an evaluation from Holman Fenwick Willan, the preliminary investigation which the EU Commission is currently in the process of carrying out could last two to three years.
The first two years have passed
Two weeks ago, on May 17th, it was two years since the EU in a coordinated dawn raid entered the headquarters of a number of line companies. What the officials from the EU Commission did precisely is unknown, but the competition authorities are entitled to leave with documents and e-mails in order to clear or confirm their suspicions. As in the many other instances of the competition authorities showing up unexpectedly, the case against the container carriers involve a suspicion that the container carriers through secret agreements are keeping prices up and thereby impeding free competition.
No comments from the EU
Maersk Line does not wish to comment on the case today, but back in May 2011, the company stated that it would cooperate with the authorities, but also denied the suspicions of illegal cooperation. That the case is being followed with great interest by the companies under investigation is due to the very hefty fines which the EU has traditionally imposed companies who keep prices artificially high. Similarly, the container carriers can in all likelihood look forward to many shippers demanding reimbursements through trials.
The case against the container carriers was launched in spring 2011, following EU’s conclusion of a major case against 11 airline carriers, which ended with the carriers having to pay fines for 800 million Euros. Today, it is still unknown what sparked the case against the airline carriers, whether it was a tip from a customer or a whistleblower that prompted the EU to commence the case.
The only thing the EU Commission has announced so far is that it has “reason to believe the companies concerned may have violated the antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive practices and/or abuse of a dominant market position.”
Today, the EU competition authorities have made the following comment to ShippingWatch:
“The investigation is still ongoing. The duration of the investigation depends on the complexity of the case and the cooperation with the parties involved. We never comment on when decisions are being made. Once the Commission reaches a verdict, we will send out a press release.”