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From Antitrust Law Daily, May 3, 2018

Dawn raids of metal packaging companies suspected of cartel activity confirmed by European Commission

By Edward L. Puzzo, J.D.

The European Commission (EC) has disclosed its investigation of metal packaging companies in various EU member states suspected of cartel activity, assuming responsibility for an investigation initiated by the German Competition Authority. The EC further confirmed that it conducted unannounced inspections (dawn raids) of these companies on April 24.

In Spring 2015, based on an anonymous tip, the Bundeskartellamt (the German Competition Authority) initiated an investigation against several metal packaging manufacturers. The companies were suspected of violating German and European competition law over several years in various German markets. Beginning in March 2015, the Bundeskartellamt conducted a number of dawn raids at different production sites of metal packaging manufacturers, including manufacturers of cans made of tin plate and aluminum for filling with foodstuffs or chemical-technical substances and manufacturers of vacuum seals for jars.

Subsequently there was increasing evidence that the alleged offenses were not limited to German markets but also affected a number of other EU member states. Consequently, the Bundeskartellamt referred its ongoing cartel proceeding to the Directorate General for Competition of the European Commission and discontinued its own national investigation. The European Commission has now confirmed that it has initiated its own formal cartel proceeding on the suspicion that the manufacturers may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices.

Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anticompetitive practices, the EC stated. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behavior nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. Due to the presumption of innocence, the companies involved will not be named unless and until a final decision to act against the companies is made. There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct.

Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt stated: "Cartel agreements are serious violations of national and European competition law and cannot be tolerated. In the present case there is concrete evidence of competition law violations in several EU member states. We have therefore made use of the possibility to refer our investigation proceeding to the European Commission as the competent authority. This example shows how important close cooperation is between the European competition authorities."

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