The Competition Authority recently raided the premises of multiple Big Tobacco companies. Seizures were made in various companies suspected of breaking the law. A possible tobacco price-fixing agreement was cited as a possible reason for the raids. Notably, the report mentioned Seita, a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco.
On January 24, the Competition Authority’s investigative services carried out seizures in various companies suspected of anti-competitive practices. According to the AFP, the raids are part of an investigation based on suspicions of a tobacco price-fixing agreement. Investigators are particularly interested in the period between 2007 and 2012.
For the time being, the Competition Authority has refrained from making any statement. French spokesperson for British American Tobacco and Seita confirmed that there were searches and seizures on company premises. The AFP has noted that a dozen agents from the Competition Authority’s financial division seized important documents.
A precedent in 2015
This is not the first time that big names in the tobacco industry have been accused of anti-competitive practices. In fact, in January 2015, the CNCT (National Committee Against Tobacco) wanted to file a complaint against multiple tobacco companies. Among the accused of unlawful price-fixing were Philip Morris, Japan Tobacco, British American Tobacco, and Imperial Tobacco.
However, the Competition Authority in France did not pursue the charges. The organization refuted the legitimacy of the CNCT’s on the grounds of a conflict of interest. Criminal proceedings were filed, however, with the National Finance Prosecutor’s office.
It is still too early to know if the searches and seizures will lead to any sanctions. The scale of the sting operation nonetheless suggests that the Competition Authority is taking the allegations seriously. If there has indeed been a price-fixing agreement, this would be a harmful and serious breach of trust and an insult to consumers.