Trustbuster Mulling Charges Against Super-Sol Managers

The Antitrust Authority held a hearing for Super-Sol chief executive Efi Rosenhaus yesterday, giving him a chance to argue why he shouldn't be charged for pressuring suppliers to damage a rival, thus violating the terms of the supermarket chain's 2005 merger with Clubmarket.

Two months ago the trustbuster told Rosenhaus and VP-marketing Eli Gidor that it intended to charge them. The offenses are considered criminal, and bear a maximal penalty of three years in prison.

The authority will now decide whether to charge Rosenhaus and Gidor. Super-Sol legal counsel Zvi Agmon declined to comment, stating that hearings are a private matter.

A six-month antitrust investigation found that Super-Sol and its top management had violated the merger terms laid down in 2005.

The trouble began in December 2008, when Super-Sol and arch-rival Blue Square announced many of the same sales. Super-Sol management reportedly pressed participating suppliers to demand that Blue Square cease its sales. When the suppliers refused, Rosenhaus and Gidor allegedly stopped selling these suppliers' products.

The products included popular items such as Osem Red Mug coffee, Shahar chocolate spread, Wissotzky Ice Tea, and Neviot mineral water.

Under the merger terms with Clubmarket, Super-Sol was prohibited from imposing such pressure on suppliers.

Furthermore, it was trying to create a cartel with the suppliers that would damage Blue Square, say antitrust sources.

The IDB group, which owns Super-Sol, published an announcement backing Rosenhaus and Gidor, expressing confidence that the inquiry would show both were innocent.

It is rare for the Antitrust Authority to simply close a case, say observers. However, the suspects' lawyer may convince the trustbuster that it would be hard to prove criminal allegations. Such cases are often settled with a fine.