Raids over oil pricing

2014-04-04 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s competition watchdog raided the local units of global firms Unilever and Sime Darby yesterday as part of a probe into suspected price fixing of edible oils and margarine.

The Competition Commission said in a statement it searched and seized documents and data from the offices of Unilever South Africa and Sime Darby Hudson and Knight.

The global fast moving consumer goods group Unilever’s South African head office is based in Durban.

“The commission believes that the information that will be obtained from today’s operation will enable the commission to determine whether or not Unilever SA and Sime Darby have indeed engaged in collusive conduct,” said acting commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele.

Sime Darby Hudson and Knight, in Boksburg, is a South African producer of oils and fats and a unit of Malaysia’s Sime Darby, the world’s top palm oil planter.

The commission said yesterday’s search and seizure operation formed part of its “ongoing investigation into collusive conduct in the markets for the manufacture and supply of edible oils and margerine to wholesale and retail customers”.

A Unilever SA spokesperson said they were co-operating with the Competition Commission and were not in a position to divulge further details.

The spokesperson said edible oil and margarine are a relatively small part of Unilever’s business in South Africa, and its brands in these markets included Flora, Rama, Stork and Marvello.

Willowton Oil, based in Pietermaritzburg, is understood to hold the biggest share of the edible oils market in South Africa, although it crushes much of the sunflower seeds itself to make the oil. A spokesperson for the company could not be reached yesterday.

Deputy commissioner of the Competition Commission, Oliver Josie, said the investigation had been underway for around a year, after the commission had received a complaint.

“We are not near the end of it [the investigation], we are at what we call the evidence gathering stage,” said Josie.

“The commission has reasonable grounds to believe that information relevant to this investigation is in the possession of employees of the two companies,” the commission said.

The commission obtained warrants authorising it to search the offices of Sime Darby and Unilever SA from the North Gauteng High Court and high court in Pietermaritzburg, respectively.

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