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European Commission launches anonymous tool for cartel whistleblowers

The European Commission has introduced a new tool for people to tell it about cartels and other antitrust violations while remaining anonymous.17 Mar 2017

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, the Commission said.

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.

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.

The two-way nature of the service means that the Commission can reply to messages if the individual requires an answer, and also seek further details and clarification if needed, increasing the likelihood that it will be able to follow up the lead with an investigation.

The new tool will "complement and reinforce" the leniency programme, the Commission said.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "If people are concerned by business practices that they think are wrong, they can help put things right. Inside knowledge can be a powerful tool to help the Commission uncover cartels and other anti-competitive practices. With our new tool it is possible to provide information, while maintaining anonymity. Information can contribute to the success of our investigations quickly and more efficiently to the benefit of consumers and the EU's economy as a whole".

Competition expert Alan Davis of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind out-Law.com said that although the competition authorities strive to detect cartel activity from their own intelligence activities, in practice they rely heavily on companies and individuals coming forward to blow the whistle on these arrangements.

"In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) offers financial rewards of up to £100,000 for information about cartels. In contrast with the new EU approach, the CMA accepts that the initial conversation could be conducted on a no-names basis if necessary, though they it will always prefer to know the informant's identity from the very start," Davis said.

"The Commission has always aimed to ensure that the anonymity of whistleblowers is protected, and this is an interesting new use by of technology to ensure that this remains the case while permitting follow-up discussions," he said.

Individuals who are willing to reveal their identity can contact the Commission's competition department directly through a dedicated phone number and e-mail address.