Three oil executives were jailed for price fixing on 11th June in the first such prosecution ever for a cartel.

Sadly, some of our clients do fall foul of the criminal law and it is important to get immediate high quality legal advice whether the matter is speeding, assault, corporate fraud or price fixing.

In this case the jail sentences were between three and five years and were imposed on three directors. They were also disqualified from serving as directors.

The three men had pleaded guilty to a single cartel offence and will be eligible for release after they have served about half their sentences. The judge found that the men were guilty of a “carefully orchestrated and comprehensive process” of fixing prices. The three used codenames, secret meetings and Swiss bank accounts and the judge found they had cheated customers, including the Ministry of Defence, into paying higher prices. Mr Whittle was paid $300,000 a year for several years to run the arrangement, which he did “as a full-time job”. The EU is still examining the cartel and the US authorities and indeed the men were arrested in the US last year after a cartel meeting was bugged.

The US allowed them to return to the UK after a plea-bargain under which they would plead guilty in the UK and serve time in prison. In the US, jail sentences of ten years, of which the entire period is served in jail, are common.

Points to note include:-

  • Increasing tougher attitude in the UK to cartel offences
  • Real risk of jail sentences
  • A search warrant was executed both at the offices of the company and one director’s home, which is permitted under the UK competition rules
  • Bugging of a cartel meeting in the US

For further advice in this field please contact Cathy Cook  at our Wakefield Office in West Yorkshire.

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