The Supreme Court has suspended the proceedings in a case involving 22 Latvian banks which were found to have violated the Competition Law by concluding multilateral agreements on interchange fees charged for transactions at point-of-sale terminals and through online banking, while it awaits a European Court of Justice decision on the same issue.
The Supreme Court recently indicated that a violation of law could be established in cases where restrictions by their nature (per se) could negatively affect competition. The violation could be established without the need for an extended investigation or to prove the factual effects of the agreement. However, the court held that not all restrictive provisions in agreements are per se prohibited by competition rules.
A recent Supreme Court judgment establishes several precedents on the application of Articles 13(1)(4) and (5) of the Competition Law in cases of abuse of dominant position. Among other things, it confirms that to establish a violation of Articles 13(1)(4), the price policy of the dominant undertaking should be examined, to determine whether prices are cost based. The undertaking's strategy should also be evaluated.
The Competition Council recently fined Latvijas Gaze (LG) for abuse of its dominant position in the natural gas distribution market. LG had stipulated that new users had to pay the debts of previous users for natural gas consumed before the conclusion of agreements with them. The council found that this practice constituted a breach of competition law in several circumstances.
The Competition Council has fined 26 energy builders over Lats2 million for participation in a cartel. During the investigation the council discovered that the cartel set artificial market prices and harmonised offers to distort competition. The council found sufficient evidence and fined the companies according to their participation in the cartel. Almost all of the companies have appealed the decision.
In July 2011 new regulations came into force which require non-bank consumer lending service providers to obtain a licence for rendering such services. The licences are to be issued by the Consumer Rights Protection Centre, a state authority that enforces the protection of consumer rights and interests in Latvia.
The Saeima recently adopted amendments to the Financial Collateral Law and included a new type of financial collateral: credit claims. Their introduction will have a positive impact on the Latvian financial sector and will expand opportunities for credit institutions and credit unions to use financial collateral as a security for the fulfilment of their clients' financial obligations.
Significant amendments to the Credit Institutions Law recently came into force. The amendments were mainly designed to implement the provisions of the EU Capital Requirements Directive II and give new powers to the Financial and Capital Market Commission. This update summarises the main amendments made to the law.
The conclusion of administrative agreements in competition cases is not widespread practice. However, a recent case makes clear that by signing administrative agreements, undertakings which have been involved in cartel activity may have their fines reduced. Such agreements also represent useful mechanisms for settling legal disputes without having to endure lengthy court proceedings.
The government has approved draft amendments to the Deposit Guarantee Law. The amendments were designed to implement the provisions of the EU Deposit Guarantee Schemes Directive to ensure that newly established banks, which are required to have an initial capital of at least €5 million, contribute sums into the fund which are proportionate to the guarantees that the fund is intended to cover.
The Competition Council has ruled that three telecommunications undertakings engaged in illegal cartel activity with respect to their participation in public procurement procedures, and engaged in price setting. It remains to be seen whether the parties will appeal and request the court to consider the cartel activity and price-fixing aspects of the case separately, and to reset the fines accordingly.
The Competition Council has adopted its first decision to apply the concept of the abuse of a dominant position on the retail market. Previously, undertakings could draw guidance only from the explanatory material included in the guidelines issued by the council. The decision clarifies the provisions of the guidelines and provides guidance as to when an undertaking can be considered to enjoy a dominant position.
The Competition Council has adopted a decision finding an infringement of Article 11 by the Association of Sworn Auditors. The decision stated that the association had been in breach of competition rules since May 1997, when it adopted a decision to fix the minimum fee for audit of annual accounts at Lats500 (approximately €700).
The government has approved amendments to the Consumer Rights Protection Law which were designed in order to implement the provisions of the EU Consumer Credit Directive and to establish a licensing system for non-bank consumer lenders.
In 2009 the Competition Council fined Riga Freeport Authority for abuse of its dominant position and imposed certain obligations on the authority. On the grounds that the authority subsequently delayed the fulfilment of certain obligations and completely failed to fulfil others, the council has now increased the fine by approximately 22%.
After extensive discussions, the government has decided not to launch a support programme – which had been in development since 2009 – for troubled mortgage borrowers. The Ministry of Finance stressed that this programme was the best that it was able to offer. However, after failing to receive support, Finance Minister Einars Repse called for its cancellation.
Recent amendments to the Credit Institution Law and the Law on Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing set out changes to the procedure for credit institutions to provide information to the State Revenue Service and the Financial Intelligence Unit.
The Saeima has adopted a new draft Insolvency Law in the first reading. If its adoption goes smoothly it will be the third law to have been introduced regulating the insolvency of companies and individuals within two years. The draft law aims to speed up insolvency proceedings in many ways and establishes rights and obligations of involved parties in more detail and more accurately.
The Competition Law has been amended for the fourth time in the past two years. The amendments reflect changes to Latvia's budget and that of the Competition Council and reduce the size of the decision-making body from five members to three. Essentially, this will mean that all cases applying the Competition Law will be decided by the chairperson and two council members.
The government has given its support to amendments to the Commercial Law which aim to facilitate the registration of new limited liability companies, prevent unsubstantiated freezing of capital in cases of liquidation and alleviate the administrative burden for capital undergoing reorganization and internal audit by removing the requirement for formal approval of the appointed auditor by the Register of Enterprises.