Q4 UPDATE: OVERVIEW OF CARTEL INVESTIGATIONS

Although 2018 saw guilty pleas and new indictments in several ongoing Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations, the year finished by continuing a downward trend in antitrust enforcement. DOJ’s criminal and civil fines in 2018 ended around $400 million—well short of the billion-dollar plus highs in 2014 and 2015, during the height of the auto parts and foreign exchange investigations. EU fines ended at €800 million, which was less than in 2017 and less than one fourth of the amount of fines imposed in 2016.

US DEVELOPMENTS

  • The DOJ has intervened in three federal class actions in the Eastern District of Washington to express its view over the proper standard of scrutiny to apply to no-poach agreements that are at the heart of several civil suits across the country. While a longer, more formal statement from the DOJ is expected soon, it appears that the DOJ will argue that the rule of reason should apply to most if not all of these lawsuits.
  • The DOJ revealed a new investigation into the bid rigging of fuel-supply contracts for US armed forces abroad. Three South Korea-based companies agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and to pay $82 million in criminal fines for their involvement in a decade-long bid-rigging conspiracy that targeted contracts to supply fuel to United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force bases in South Korea.
  • Two former Deutsche Bank traders urged a Manhattan federal judge in December 2018 to reverse their convictions for rigging the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) and to dismiss the charges against them. Prosecutors obtained the convictions in October 2018 by arguing that the two traders had conspired with the bank’s Libor submitters to skew the lending benchmark to benefit their derivative trades. In December, the pair argued that prosecutors obtained that conviction by lying to the court and the jury and by hiding evidence from defense attorneys throughout the case.
  • Two executives pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the DOJ’s investigation into price fixing in the freight-forwarding industry.
  • While the DOJ’s investigation into price fixing of online promotional products appeared to slow, in November 2018, the DOJ announced new charges against another online promotional products company and its executive for conspiring to fix prices for customized promotional products, including wristbands, lanyards, temporary tattoos and buttons between May 2014 and June 2016.
  • The DOJ’s investigation into bid rigging of public real estate foreclosure auctions continues, as additional charges and guilty pleas continue to roll in.
  • Following up on an indictment from 2015, the DOJ obtained a plea agreement from an art dealer in the UK for agreeing with its competitors on Amazon Marketplace and elsewhere to fix the price of art posters sold online to customers in the US. The defendant agreed to pay a criminal fine of $50,000, plus fees, and agreed to a recommended sentence between 12 and 60 months.

EU DEVELOPMENTS

  • In November 2018, the Commission opened an investigation to determine whether agreements between booking system providers and airlines and travel agents distorts competition.
  • In December 2018, the Commission sent Statement of Objections to banks involved in trading US Dollar supra-sovereign, sovereign and agency bonds.

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