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Australia has convicted Norway-based shipping company Wallenius Wilhelmsen with criminal cartel conduct and fined the company $24 million.
The conviction brings to a close a wide-ranging investigation by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) into the international cartel involving several international shipping companies related to shipping of vehicles to Australia from Asia, Europe and the United States on behalf of major car manufacturers.
In August 2017, Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK) was fined $25 million, while K-Line was fined $34.5 million in August 2019, which remains the largest criminal fine ordered under the Competition and Consumer Act. WWO’s sentencing brings the total fines to $83.5 between the three shipping companies.
A cartel exists when businesses agree to act together instead of competing with each other, and conduct can include price fixing, sharing markets, rigging bids and controlling the output or limiting the amount of goods and services.
WWO pleaded guilty back in June 2020 and was convicted and sentenced Thursday for one criminal charge of giving effect to cartel provisions. An Australian court found that Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean AS (WWO), formerly Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL), had engaged in a cartel with the other shipping companies in relation to the transportation of vehicles such as cars, trucks and buses to Australia between June 2011 and July 2012.
WWO also admitted guilt related to two additional offenses of giving effect to cartel provisions in 2009 which was taken into account on sentence.
The Judge noted that this was the third criminal prosecution arising from a global cartel in a market of considerable economic importance for Australia.
“On just about any view, this was an extremely serious offense against Australia’s laws which prohibit cartel conduct” and WWO’s conduct was covert, deliberate, systematic, and involved planning and deliberation, said the Justice.
“The $24m fine for WWO brings this complex international criminal cartel investigation to a successful conclusion,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.
The ACCC’s investigation was assisted by the US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Japan Fair Trade Commission and the European Commission.
“International cartel investigations can be challenging and complicated because parties, witnesses and other evidence are located overseas. We are grateful for the excellent cooperation with our international counterparts,” said Sims.
WWL was also previously prosecuted in several other jurisdictions including South Africa, Europe and the United States in connection to its conduct with the cartel and has paid multi-million dollar fines in connection with those cases.
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