Sunday, April 21, 2024

Christchurch container company fined over attempted price fixing

The High Court has ordered Specialised Container Services (Christchurch) Limited (SCS Christchurch) and its director, Grant Tregurtha, to pay penalties in relation to an attempted price fix of “vehicle booking system” fees.

The Commission filed proceedings against SCS Christchurch and Mr Tregurtha in December 2019. 

The Commission alleged that Mr Tregurtha, a director of SCS Christchurch, attempted to reach an agreement with a competitor to charge the same or similar “vehicle booking system” fee to customers of its container depot.

The Commission alleged, and SCS Christchurch and Mr Tregurtha admitted, that this conduct amounted to an attempt by SCS Christchurch and Mr Tregurtha to enter into a price fixing agreement with a competitor in breach of the Commerce Act.

The High Court imposed penalties of $62,500 against SCS Christchurch and $24,000 against Mr Tregurtha.

The Court found the appropriate starting point for SCS Christchurch was within the range of $500,000-$650,000 taking account of the short duration of the conduct, the nature of the market, and Mr Tregurtha’s role as a director. The end penalty was adjusted due to SCS Christchurch’s financial position. The appropriate starting point for Mr Tregurtha was agreed to be $25,000-$30,000.

The High Court acknowledged the integrity of the competitor approached by Mr Tregurtha, whose actions ensured that a price-fixing agreement was not concluded. 

Commission Chair, Anna Rawlings said the case showed the importance of avoiding discussions with competitors on pricing that might fall foul of the law, even if an actual agreement is not reached. 

“Cartel conduct can harm consumers through higher prices, and it can harm other businesses which are trying to compete fairly. Since April this year individuals engaging in cartel conduct have been liable for a term of imprisonment of up to 7 years and financial penalties that can be imposed against individuals and businesses,” said Ms Rawlings.

“This underlines the importance of businesses and their directors making sure that they understand their obligations and how to stay on the right side of the law.” 

More details on the Leniency policy can be found on our website.  Businesses and individuals can also use the Commission’s anonymous whistleblower tool.

Read the judgement here.

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