It has taken a long time for the first major cartel investigations to conclude since criminal cartel offences were introduced in Australia in July 2009.
Shipping cartel fines now total $83.5 million after Norwegian-based global shipping company Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean AS (WWO) was ordered by the Federal Court to pay a fine of $24 million in February 2021.
What is a cartel?
A cartel exists when businesses collaborate for financial gain instead of competing. Conduct can include:
- Price fixing.
- Sharing markets.
- Rigging bids.
- Controlling output or limiting the amount of goods and services.
WWO fined $24 million years after collaborators prosecuted
In August 2017, shipping companies NYK and K-Line were fined $25 million and $34.5 million, respectively, for engaging in criminal cartel conduct. The latter is the largest criminal fine ordered under Australia’s Competition and Consumer Act.
In February 2021, the Federal Court found that WWO had engaged in a cartel with NYK and K-Line in relation to the transportation of vehicles to Australia between 2011 and 2012.
WWO was convicted of criminal cartel conduct and ordered by the Federal Court to pay a fine of $24 million.
How did the cartel work and what was the impact?
Major vehicle manufacturers were allocated between the companies including on certain shipping routes to Australia. This created an anti-competitive environment likely to increase prices paid by consumers.
Who investigated and prosecuted this case?
This outcome was the result of an extensive investigation by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) into the international cartel, which involved the shipping of vehicles to Australia from Asia, Europe, and the US.
Due to the transnational nature of this cartel, the ACCC’s investigation was assisted by the US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Japan Fair Trade Commission and the European Commission.
The case was prosecuted in Australia by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) following referral by the ACCC.
Anti-competitive conduct such as engaging in a cartel is dealt with harshly by Australia’s Federal Court. Multinational corporations conducting business in Australia need to be aware of and ensure compliance with the new laws to avoid hefty fines and potential imprisonment.