Expert defence in cartel investigations

A cartel investigation places immense stress on affected businesses. A wrong move can lead to costly outcomes, including liability for civil fines, exposure to follow-on damages claims and long-lasting reputational damage. Fines typically run into the millions while, in some jurisdictions, responsible individuals can be imprisoned for collusion. Having the best possible legal team to defend your business is crucial.

What is a cartel?

A cartel is when businesses that would usually compete with each other secretly agree not to. For example, rivals may agree to fix prices, share markets, control output or collude in tenders to the benefit of the participating businesses. Working together in this way constitutes cartel behaviour.

What does a cartel investigation involve?

Cartel investigations are typically triggered when one of the participating cartelists informs a competition authority about the cartel in exchange for leniency from fines. This is known as "blowing the whistle". Investigations can also be triggered following complaints from third parties who are adversely affected by the cartel.

To avoid cartelists destroying evidence, investigations often begin with the investigating authority conducting "dawn raids" on the suspected participants. These involve unannounced searches of business premises and home offices, interviews of suspected participants and extensive searches of company databases and personal electronic devices.

Dawn raids themselves are dynamic and unpredictable, requiring expert, in-the-moment legal guidance. However, businesses can plan for the possibility of a dawn raid and address some difficult issues in advance: what happens if your servers are located in a different jurisdiction?  When can you lawfully refuse access? What search warrants are needed? How do the rules apply to employees working from home: can investigators search their cars or home offices?

During a dawn raid, business leaders will need to make rapid decisions on the extent to which they are willing to cooperate. This could include seeking leniency if incriminating evidence is likely to be found.

All such decisions must be considered from a commercial, legal and reputation perspective. Having experienced, clear-thinking lawyers on your side can make all the difference to the outcome of a cartel investigation.

How we can help you

We have a strong investigatory practice. Our team is experienced in defending those under investigation as well as seeking redress for those adversely affected by anticompetitive behaviour. Whether you are facing a competition investigation, market inquiry or have suffered from anti-competitive conduct, we will take a strategic approach to representing you throughout the process.

This may cover:

  • designing tailored compliance programmes
  • handling competition investigations
  • bringing and defending damages actions
  • preparing and submitting leniency applications
  • managing dawn raids
  • filing appeals against decisions

International investigations

Cartel investigations frequently take place across multiple jurisdictions. Businesses need to ensure their constitutional rights are not violated in any jurisdiction, which needs a joined-up international response. Fines may need to be negotiated on a national basis, with individual competition authorities often enjoying significant margins of discretion.

Our pan-European team has been involved in many high-profile investigations. Where we don't have a local presence, we work with an extensive network of trusted 'best friend' firms to ensure we can handle investigations of any scale.

Our cartels and investigations lawyers

Our dedicated team of competition lawyers and litigators are experienced in all aspects of competition law. We provide multi-jurisdictional defence and have represented clients in public and private enforcement before the highest national courts as well as the European Court of Justice.

We have built strong relationships with an international network of professional service firms, including economists and technology providers. We are confident that we can put the right team in place to support your business wherever trouble should strike.

""We’ve worked with the Osborne Clarke competition team since 2018. They have a great, methodical approach to analysing situation and context, identifying potential issues, and they have great network of competition law professionals to work on finding solutions."

EU and Competition Client, The Legal 500


International RPM dawn raid and investigation

Successfully defended an international bicycle manufacturer on competition investigations into suspected resale price maintenance in Austria, Belgium and Switzerland.

Automotive spare parts cartel

Defending a leading supplier of ignition coils in cartel investigation proceedings of DG COMP against automotive suppliers.

European truck cartel

Acting for several European claimants, including a major German claims aggregator and several Italian road haulage associations on the ongoing damages claim against the European Truck Cartel.

CRD and LCD cartels

Representing the liquidators of a leading former personal computer manufacturer on on-going (highly successful) follow-on damages claims against the LCD and CRT cartels.

LCD cartel litigation

Acted in a cartel litigation in London Commercial Court involving LCD’s, on behalf of a client from Taiwan.

Cartel damages claimant

Represented the claimant in Germany's largest pending follow-on cartel damages action, including preliminary reference to the European Court of Justice.

Hydrogen peroxide cartel

Advised on collective follow-on action against the members of the hydrogen peroxide cartel in Germany.

Automotive spare parts supplier

Advised an automotive spare parts supplier in the European Commission's largest-ever cartel investigation.

A computer manufacturer

Acted for a claimant computer manufacturer in high value claims against cartelists following on from the European Commission's decision relating to the CRT and DRAM cartels.

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