THE COMPETITION COUNCIL REDUCED THE FINE FOR THE COMPANY ŠVYTURYS-UTENOS ALUS, WHICH ADMITTED TO OBSTRUCTING THE INVESTIGATION
The Competition Council found that Švyturys-Utenos alus had deleted relevant information during the inspection, had not complied with the obligation to provide a copy of the data requested, and thus had hindered the investigation activities of the Authority's officials. As the company admitted that it had violated the Law on Competition by such actions and cooperated with the investigators, the fine imposed on the company was reduced to EUR 810 790.
In April 2023, the Competition Council conducted an inspection at the premises of one of the largest beverage producers in Lithuania. During the inspection, an official of the institution was examining a conversation found on the Messenger app on the phone of an employee of Švyturys-Utenos alus. This conversation involved discussions with a representative of another suspected company regarding product prices. While the official was making copies of this conversation, the employee of the beverage producer, using another device and logging into his Facebook account, deleted the information being examined.
The officials requested the employee to download a copy of his Facebook account data, but it was not provided.
When the Competition Council initiated an investigation into the obstruction actions of Švyturys-Utenos alus, the company cooperated with the institution's experts from the beginning, provided detailed additional explanations. Furthermore, the beverage producer acknowledged the violation of the Competition Law identified by the Competition Council and agreed to the imposed fine. As this allowed a more efficient completion of the investigation into the obstructive conduct, the Authority reduced the financial sanction by almost EUR 200 000, that is to EUR 810 790, considering the mitigating circumstances.
Jolanta Ivanauskienė, the Chairwoman of the Competition Council, emphasised that the Authority always encourages suspected infringers to cooperate during the investigation and, therefore, applies mitigating circumstances.
However, according to her, the Competition Council will continue to rigorously and principledly assess the similar actions of the companies in the future, where efforts are made to obstruct the collection of significant information for an investigation. During inspections, officials of the institution specifically aim to collect both paper and electronic documents held by companies, especially non-public information, that could become crucial evidence in investigations into suspected violations of competition law.
"Actions of companies that prevent the Competition Council from collecting data necessary information for the investigation, such as in this particular case – by deleting information, are in themselves a dangerous procedural violation, as they may prevent the detection of an infringement of the Law on Competition causing harm to consumers," said J. Ivanauskienė.
The decision may be appealed to the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court within one month from the date of its delivery or publication on the Competition Council's website.