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The CMA has launched a crackdown on cartels

Thursday 01 March 2018

A new campaign is being launched by the UK’s competition watchdog to crackdown on organised crime amidst a rise in the number of cartel tip-offs.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced a new campaign to crackdown on illegal price fixing, which comes less than a year after it fined an estate agency group hundreds of thousands of pounds for the practice.

Businesses currently found to be involved in illegal cartels can be fined up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover with individuals facing up to five years in prison, and last years ruling saw five estate agents operating in the Burnham-on-Sea area fined over £370,000 for fixing the minimum prices of their commission rates, and monopolising 95 per cent of the local market share.

This latest move by the CMA aims to encourage more people to come forward with information that will help it hunt out illegal cartels, and urge those who may have been involved in cartel activity to be “Safe, not Sorry”.

After the launch of its first digital campaign, the CMA claim to have seen a 30 per cent increase in tip-offs. As part of the new campaign, conspirators are being reminded if they come forward with information about their involvement, they can receive significant reductions in fines, and if they are the first to come forward, they can receive total immunity. Whistleblowers who "Do the Right Thing" can receive a reward of up to £100,000.

Stephen Blake, Senior Director for Cartels at the CMA, said:

"We are committed to tackling cartels wherever we find them. More people are reporting illegal activity to us and we urge anyone with information to come forward. If you’re involved, it’s better to be safe, not sorry and to tell us about it first – before someone else does.

"For those who were not involved but have witnessed illegal activity, we urge them to do the right thing. We know that this is a sensitive issue and some people could worry about what might happen to them if they speak to us. All information is treated confidentially and we can discuss any concerns that people may have over keeping their identity secret."

Francesca West, Chief Executive at whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work, which is backing the “Safe, not Sorry” campaign, said:

"We know from our experience that speaking up isn’t easy, but it is often the only way to prevent further harm. It is encouraging the CMA has seen a 30 per cent rise in people coming forward to report the illegal behaviour of cartels."

The CMA claims to have issued £151 million in fines over the past two years following investigations into anti-competitive practices, and is currently investigating 15 cases where competition law may have been broken.