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DISPUTE OVER FINES TO CARTELISTS SETTLED IN COURT

31 03 2022
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On March 30 the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania (Court) has approved settlement agreements between the Lithuanian competition authority Konkurencijos taryba and the companies Jadrana and Pasvalio melioracija in which EUR 18,720 and EUR 151,430 respective individual fines assigned to the infringers for a cartel agreement have been envisaged.

The Court ruling has been adopted after reopening the proceedings in case in which on 7 April 2021 the same court had left the decision of the court of first instance unchanged. Vilnius Regional Administrative Court had annulled the authority’s part of the decision on joint fine imposed on the companies Jadrana and Pasvalio melioracija and returned the case back to the authority to decide on the individualisation of the sanctions. The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania later satisfied the request of Konkurencijos taryba and reopened the proceedings taking into account that the composition of the judges examining the dispute was unlawful (one judge instead of a panel of judges), therefore, its decision was not legitimate.

In this case the dispute concerned a joint and several fine imposed on the companies. Given that in similar cases the Court had previously ruled that a joint and several fine could not be imposed under similar circumstances, having assessed the likely outcome of the legal proceedings in question, Konkurencijos taryba proposed to the parties to conclude settlement agreements and to close the proceedings in a faster and more effective way.

The extended panel of judges established that Konkurencijos taryba and the aforementioned companies can close the case through settlement agreements. The Court noted that part of the ruling by which both companies were found to have infringed the provisions of the Law on Competition remains valid, while significant fines imposed even under the settlement agreements should be regarded as contributing to ensuring public interest.

Settlement agreements approved by the Court serve as the final decision and are enforceable documents. After the approval of settlement agreements and the termination of the administrative case by the Court, it is not allowed to appeal to court regarding a legal dispute between the same parties on the same subject matter and on the same basis.

The ruling approving settlement agreements closes litigation proceedings concerning the authority‘s decision of June 2019 which announced that instead of competing the companies Pasvalio melioracija, Jadrana, Panevėžio melioracija and Biržų ranga agreed on the prices in 25 public tenders on street and road repair and land melioration works organised by three municipalities from 2012 to 2017. By doing so, the firms helped each other to win contracts in different territories of Lithuania.

Previously the Court had ruled that the competition authority legitimately imposed EUR 368,900 fine on Biržų ranga and EUR 209,800 fine on Panevėžio melioracija.