Financial Times
02 June 2015

UK competition watchdog CMA faces criminal court test

The UK's competition watchdog will this week face its first test in a criminal court since the botched prosecution of British Airways executives in 2010, as two men go on trial accused of fixing prices for steel tanks.

The prosecution by the Competition & Markets Authority - created by the merger of the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission - will be pivotal to see whether the new regulator has learnt lessons from its predecessors, legal experts say. The CMA has vowed to bring as "many criminal cases as possible" and has been beefing up its criminal division as it begins a fresh crackdown on price fixing.

"Those who are monitoring this area will be saying this is going to be one to watch," said Andrij Jurkiw, the head of the competition team at the law firm Mishcon de Reya. "There's a huge amount riding on this case."

The CMA has 11 open cases, including a criminal cartel investigation into the supply of products to the construction industry. The agency's powers include bringing criminal cases and imposing civil penalties that can amount to 30 per cent of a company's worldwide turnover in a relevant market.

Since the collapse of the BA trial, the law has been overhauled to make it easier for the CMA to prosecute such cases.

Mr Jurkiw said: "It would be disastrous for the CMA if they lost the case on some sort of procedural technicality or quite simply they had placed too great a reliance on evidence which wasn't as strong as they had made it out to be."

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