The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently publicised the disqualification of three individuals from acting as directors as a consequence of their company's involvement in an infringement of UK competition law. In view of the CMA's commitment to enforcement actions and to ensuring that directors are held personally responsible for competition law compliance, individuals and organisations should, among other things, proactively consider the extent of any potential exposure that they may face.
The acquisition of a minority shareholding (which satisfies the jurisdictional criteria under the UK merger control regime) without obtaining clearance presents a range of legal and commercial risks for parties, including that the Competition and Markets Authority could ultimately order the acquisition to be undone. This article highlights some ways for parties to identify and understand the extent of the risks of an acquisition.
The Competition and Markets Authority can open an investigation and impose initial enforcement orders where it has reasonable grounds to suspect that two or more enterprises have ceased to be distinct. This includes circumstances in which an acquirer purchases only a minority shareholding in the target because, under the UK merger control regime, two or more enterprises cease to be distinct where they are brought under common ownership or common control.
Where the Competition Market Authority (CMA) opens an investigation into a completed transaction, it will generally impose an initial enforcement order (IEO). In addition, the CMA can impose IEOs in the context of planned transactions, but anticipates that it will do so relatively rarely in practice. In the context of a completed transaction, an IEO aims to ensure that the acquired business continues to compete with the acquiring business and is maintained as a going concern during the course of the CMA's investigation.
Under the UK merger control regime, while parties can notify transactions and obtain clearance from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) before completion, there is no legal requirement to do so. However, if parties do not obtain clearance before completion, the CMA can still investigate. Therefore, a completed transaction is potentially at risk of investigation during the four-month statutory period.