In civil cartel proceedings brought by the ACCC, the Federal Court has found that BlueScope Steel Limited and its former general manager of sales and marketing, Mr Jason Ellis, engaged in cartel conduct in relation to the supply of flat steel products in Australia.
The Court found that between September 2013 and June 2014, BlueScope and Mr Ellis attempted to induce eight steel distributors in Australia, and overseas manufacturer, Yieh Phui, to enter agreements to fix and/or raise the level of pricing for flat steel products supplied in Australia.
“The Court has found that BlueScope, which is one of Australia’s largest companies, and its former senior executive, Jason Ellis, attempted to induce competitors to enter into price fixing arrangements,” ACCC Commissioner Liza Carver said.
“If successful, these attempts would have resulted in agreements between competitors which reduced price competition in the Australian flat steel market and increased prices for flat steel products which are widely used in Australia.”
“Cartels not only disadvantage other businesses which are competing lawfully, but can also lead to consumers paying higher prices.”
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“This is an important decision which has the potential to strengthen the ACCC’s position in future cases of attempted cartel conduct,” Ms Carver said.
“This should serve as a strong warning to all businesses and individuals that even attempting to reach a price fixing arrangement with one or more competitors may have very serious consequences, on both a corporate and personal level. Corporations and individuals involved in cartel conduct may face either ACCC civil enforcement action or potential criminal charges brought by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.”
A hearing on penalties and other orders has been set down for 3 April 2023. In addition to seeking penalties against both BlueScope and Mr Ellis, the ACCC is also seeking an order disqualifying Mr Ellis from managing corporations for a period to be determined by the Court.
This decision comes after Mr Ellis was convicted and sentenced in December 2020 for inciting the obstruction of an ACCC investigation, as a result of his conduct encouraging two other BlueScope employees to give false information and evidence to the ACCC during its investigation of the cartel conduct.