Trustbuster getting new powers: Abusive monopolies could face big fines
The amendment, whose final phrasing was finished on Tuesday, will be submitted for cabinet approval this week.
An amendment to the Antitrust Law could enable the antitrust commissioner to fine monopolies that abuse their status as much as 10% of their annual turnover. This means that companies in uncompetitive sectors, like Tnuva and the cell phone operators, could face hundreds of millions of shekels in fines if convicted of antitrust violations.
The amendment, whose final phrasing was finished on Tuesday, will be submitted for cabinet approval this week. It states that the trustbuster can fine lawbreakers up to NIS 1 million. Companies with an annual turnover of more than NIS 10 million can be fined even more: 10% of their annual turnover in the year preceding the violation.
Violations that could merit such a fine include participating in a cartel that divides up a given market and sets prices between companies that should be competing; not informing the antitrust commissioner of full or partial mergers; violating agreements with the trustbuster; and violating the trustbuster's orders in a range of matters, including merger terms and instructions to a monopoly's controlling shareholder.
It also allows the trustbuster to fine monopolies that took advantage of their status in a way that harmed competition and the public, or refused to sell or buy a service or product for an unreasonable reason.
Companies that refuse to provide documents as requested may be fined NIS 300,000, or 3% of annual turnover for companies with turnover of more than NIS 10 million a year.
Thus, the amendment allows the antitrust commissioner to fine companies that caused harm to the public and to competition, as well as companies in concentrated industries that violated the trustbuster's orders. These industries include banking and cellular communications.
Sources at the authority said the amendment was not directed at any single company, but rather was intended to create deterrence.
That said, the trustbuster recently launched an investigation against Tnuva, which stands accused of concealing documents and taking advantage of its monopoly status to raise prices. Since Tnuva's turnover was NIS 7.2 billion in 2010, it could potentially face a fine of NIS 720 million.
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