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KONKURENCIJOS TARYBA REDUCES FINES FOR FOOD WHOLESALERS FOR COOPERATION AND SETTLEMENT IN BID-RIGGING CASE

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The Lithuanian competition authority Konkurencijos taryba has found that the companies Sanitex, Sotėja, Selnera, Maistulis and Egilėja rigged their bids, including the price, in public procurements for the purchase of food products organised by or for the benefit of educational institutions and social service providers. Since the firms acknowledged the infringement of the Law on Competition and helped to reveal anti-competitive behaviour, the envisaged fines were reduced from 75 to 15 per cent.

Konkurencijos taryba launched the investigation in July 2019, after receiving initial information from Vilnius and Kaunas city municipalities. Their employees suspected that the companies Sotėja, Maistulis and Egilėja might have coordinated their actions in 11 public tenders for the purchase of food products for nurseries.

Having opened the investigation and conducted part of the inspections, Konkurencijos taryba found that the number of infringers and affected public tenders might have been significantly higher, as compared to the suspicions raised by Vilnius and Kaunas city municipalities. Soon afterwards, Sanitex submitted a leniency appliction regarding its involvement in bid-rigging cartel in public procurements organised by other contracting authorities. A  leniency application was subsequently submitted by Sotėja and Selnera, which belong to the same group of companies.

The authority established that from 2016 and 2019 Sanitex, Sotėja, Maistulis and Egilėja, through Selnera, coordinated commercial offers, including the price, in 101 public tenders for the purchase of food products organised by various educational institutions and social service providers operating in Lithuania, i. e. nurseries, kindergartens, gymnasiums, healthcare centers, colleges, nursing homes. The competitors prepared for each other documents, submitted fictitious bids and agreed in advance on the winner of a particular tender. Sotėja and Selnera coordinated their actions in 101 public tenders, meanwhile Sanitex – in 90, Maistulis – in 49 and Egilėja – in 8.

"As a result of allegations reported by the employees of Vilnius and Kaunas city municipalities, our authority identified a large-scale systematic anti-competitive agreement which lasted for almost four years. The companies which formed the cartel only imitated competition in public procurements organised by several dozens of contracting authorities. Although solid sanctions have been calculated for the cartelists, we reduced them significantly since the companies cooperated with Konkurencijos taryba: revealed anti-competitive actions, acknowledged the infringement, as well as the envisaged fines", said Šarūnas Keserauskas, Chairman of the authority.

For Sanitex, which was the first to report the agreement and provide the evidence after opening an investigation, the fine for part of the infringement period was not calculated and the envisaged sanction was reduced by 75 per cent. For the undertakings Sotėja and Selnera, which submitted leniency submissions and provided additional evidence, the fines were reduced by 65 per cent, meanwhile for Egilėja and Maistulis, which acknowledged the infringement at the end of an investigation – by 15 per cent. In addition, the directors of Sanitex, Sotėja and Selnera, which submitted leniency applications and provided the evidence, will avoid personal liability. 

For the infringement of the Law on Competition, Sanitex was fined EUR 12,663,200, Maistulis – EUR 74,600, Sotėja – EUR 40,000, Selnera – EUR 4,700, Egilėja – EUR 3,500.

Š. Keserauskas noted that full immunity from fines can be granted only if an undertaking, which has been involved in an anti-competitive agreement, is first to provide information to Konkurencijos taryba before the authority carries out the inspections.

The decision of Konkurencijos taryba may be appealed to the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court.

Persons who suffered from the cartel can bring an action for cartel damage claims before the court.