The Office for the Protection of Competition recently issued two press releases in which it confirmed one fine and imposed another on non-cooperative competitors, the first for an obstruction during a dawn raid and the second for not replying to a request for information. The fines demonstrate how important it is for companies to be aware of their procedural rights and obligations during investigations carried out by the office.
The Office for the Protection of Competition recently announced in a press release that it had imposed a Kc32 million (approximately €1.2 million) fine on Czech retail chain HRUŠKA, spol sro for an alleged abuse of significant market power. According to the press release, the retail chain allegedly violated the Significant Market Power Act by fully transferring all business risks and losses associated with the sale of goods nearing their expiration date to dozens of its suppliers between 2016 and 2019.
In 2017 the Office for the Protection of Competition imposed a gun-jumping fine of Kc4.9 million (approximately €190,000) on Armex Oil sro, a company active in the wholesale fuel market (gasoline and diesel). However, Armex Oil challenged the amount of the fine before the competent regional court, which found the fine to be disproportionate and reduced it. The office then filed an appeal with the Supreme Administrative Court, which ultimately backed the original fine.
In a first-instance decision, the Office for the Protection of Competition has fined RITCHY EU sro Kc6.7 million (€270,000) for resale price maintenance practices. According to the decision, RITCHY EU, a distributor of e-cigarettes and refills, violated the Act on the Protection of Competition between 6 September 2017 and 31 March 2019 by imposing on its customers minimum resale prices for the goods concerned.
The Office for the Protection of Competition recently fined the City of Prague Kc980,000 (approximately €36,981) for creating anti-competitive parking conditions for hybrid vehicles. According to the office's press release, between 17 April 2018 and 30 April 2019 the City of Prague violated the Act on the Protection of Competition by favouring the parking of certain hybrid vehicles in paid parking zones in its territory without objectively justifiable reasons.
The Constitutional Court recently upheld the Act on Significant Market Power, despite demands for its repeal by a group of senators almost four years ago. However, the court stated that the provision limiting the amount of suppliers' payments to customers with significant market power to 3% of the suppliers' annual sales is unconstitutional. This decision is of fundamental importance to future cooperation between suppliers and customers.
To facilitate the detection of anti-competitive behaviour, the Office for the Protection of Competition has proposed an amendment to the Act on Electronic Communication. Based on the amendment, the office would be entitled to request individual activity and location data (ie, date, time, mode of communication and duration) from mobile phone operators. However, access to this data would not be possible without prior judicial written permission.
The legality of on-site inspections (also known as dawn raids) carried out by the Office for the Protection of Competition at the premises of betting companies in early 2019 is currently under judicial review. For its part, the office maintains that dawn raids are an efficient tool for investigating possible competition law infringements. Moreover, it recently published an information letter on dawn raids and intervention actions on its website.
The Office for the Protection of Competition recently found two companies guilty of bid rigging in a public tender. While similar bid-rigging cases occur quite frequently and generally fall within the office's purview, this case is unique because, for the first time, the office was informed about the anti-competitive behaviour by a whistleblower and appointed a guardian for one of the parties involved.
The Office for the Protection of Economic Competition recently fined Czech health products supplier TCM Herbs Kc853,000 (approximately €33,500) for resale price maintenance (RPM). TCM Herbs has appealed the decision. The office has not issued an RPM decision in a long time. As such, the outcome of the review by its chair will be closely followed and hopefully indicative in terms of how (or if) the office will consider a more economic approach.
The Office for the Protection of Economic Competition recently reviewed vertical aspects of online platforms and distribution channels, ultimately fining online booking platform Booking.com approximately €0.33 million for using most-favoured-nation (MFN) clauses in its contracts with hotels. Although the decision has not yet been published, it is hoped that it will be instructive in terms of how the office examines the conditions under which MFN clauses may be considered anti-competitive.
The Office for the Protection of Competition recently adopted new guidelines on the method of setting fines for competition law infringements. The new guidelines are intended to underline the repressive and preventive function of fines. As a result, undertakings can expect higher fines for infringements of competition rules than under the previous regime.
Restrictive clauses are common in commercial lease agreements. Such clauses can limit a landlord's ability to lease property to other tenants, restrict a tenant's business activities to a certain geographical area or control the subleasing of property. Restrictive clauses in lease agreements may appear to be problem-free and reflective of the contractual freedom of the parties, which forms one of the pillars of civil law. However, when certain restrictive clauses are scrutinised, a number of issues can become apparent.
The Czech Competition Authority (CCA) recently published an information paper on dawn raids during its annual competition law conference. The paper aims to provide guidance explaining the powers and privileges of CCA officials in the course of a dawn raid and a brief overview of the case law relating to dawn raids, focusing on judicial review of the legality of dawn raids carried out after the European Court of Human Rights' judgment in Delta Pekárny.
With the introduction of the Damages Act, the Czech Republic has finally implemented the EU Damages Directive, which establishes common EU rights for cartel victims seeking damages. The Damages Act introduces many novelties into national law, which aim to improve the procedural status of citizens and businesses that claim compensation before the national courts for damages caused by an infringement of EU or national antitrust rules.
While the advance of the digital economy and the growth of e-commerce affects competition in the Czech Republic, the Office for the Protection of Competition has not yet developed a special strategy or coherent decision-making practice with respect to the specific issues relating to digital markets. That said, the office has issued several decisions regarding competition in online markets – in particular, regarding mergers between e-shop operators and e-shop resale price maintenance arrangements.
The Office for the Protection of Competition recently fined Czech mobile operators Vodafone Czech Republic as and O2 Czech Republic as a total of Kr99 million after it deemed an agreement on an exclusive, direct interconnection between the two operators included in a 2001 interconnection agreement to be anti-competitive. Another case in the telecoms sector which was originally initiated by the office is now under the jurisdiction of the European Commission.
While the 2016 amendment to the Significant Market Power Act sought to remove and clarify ambiguous provisions within the act and generally provide greater protection to suppliers, several provisions remained vague and were thus open to interpretation. As such, the Office for the Protection of Competition recently issued an information letter to clarify and explain the changes introduced by the amendment.
The Prague Municipal Court recently dismissed the private damages action brought by private railway passenger carrier LEO Express against publicly owned national incumbent Czech Railways due to a lack of evidence. Although the judgment is not publicly available, the available information already raises the question of whether it might shed a negative light on the future of private enforcement of competition law in the Czech Republic.
The Competition Authority recently announced in a press release that it had fined companies from the construction sector approximately €74 million for bid rigging. Despite the fact that only limited information is available, the fine seems exceptionally high compared to those imposed by the Competition Authority in the past.
The Supreme Court recently held that a dawn raid carried out by the Competition Authority was unlawful. The court held that the authorisation to carry out the raid lacked justification and proportionality and that the scope of the raid was excessive, causing the whole raid to be unlawful. As a result the court ordered the Competition Authority – for the first time – to destroy all data obtained during the raid.
The Competition Authority recently issued a controversial decision in which it fined Škoda Auto Kr49 million for engaging in anti-competitive practices in the form of resale price maintenance. The decision deviated from the authority's established decision-making practice – in particular, its procedure for setting fines. It is unclear whether this is a one-off aberration or a complete departure from the authority's regular practice.
A similarity or even an overlap of parts of bids does not constitute sufficient evidence to establish a breach of national competition law. This follows from a recent Competition Authority decision in an alleged bid-rigging case. By this decision, the authority challenged its own approach concerning the prosecution of bid rigging. Further, the decision has provided a universal excuse for bid rigging among competitors.
Under existing EU legislation, if there is a causal relationship between harm suffered and an infringement of competition rules, any individual is entitled to claim compensation for such harm. However, potential claimants have remained rather sceptical of bringing antitrust damages actions so far. This may change with the adoption of a proposed EU directive on actions for damages for infringements of competition law.