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CMA offers £100,000 to cartel whistleblowers

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an advertising campaign targeting illegal cartels, offering anonymity and a reward of up to £100,000 for whistleblowers.22 Mar 2017

The adverts will be shown in social media feeds such as Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as on some other websites, the CMA said.

CMA research has found that most businesses have a "shared ethical sense that conduct such as price-fixing is unfair or wrong", but less than a quarter of businesses said they knew competition law well, the CMA said.

Andrea Coscelli, acting chief executive of the CMA said: "Cartels are a form of stealing that cheats ordinary people as well as other businesses by undermining competition, and we are committed to tackling them wherever we find them. Cartels are carried out in secret to make you think you are getting a fair deal, even when you are being conspired against to keep prices high."

Businesses found to have been involved in illegal cartels can be fined up to 10% of their annual turnover, individuals can face up to five years in prison and directors can be disqualified from holding director positions for up to 10 years, the CMA said.

Penalties can, however, be reduced if a business or individual reports involvement in a cartel and co-operates with the investigation, it said.

The CMA secured its first director disqualification in December 2016, when a senior executive at a UK business which had been fined for breaching competition laws signed an undertaking that disqualified him from being a director of another UK company for five years.

The CMA is able to impose disqualification on directors where their conduct directly contributed to the breach or had reasonable grounds to suspect a breach but took no steps to prevent it.

The European Commission launched an anonymous tool for cartel whistleblowers this month.

To date most cartels have been identified through the Commission's leniency programme, which offers reduced fines for businesses which report their own involvement in a cartel. However, the Commission is now keen to encourage individuals to get in touch if they know about a cartel or other antitrust violation, using an encrypted messaging system that allows two-way communication while retaining anonymity, it said.

The service is run by an external provider that will only relay the content of messages, without any metadata on the individual, the Commission said.