Tribunal postpones cartel case as key witness denied access to SA

The Competition Tribunal has granted the Competition Commission a postponement in a long-running panel beating cartel case, since a key witness was not able to travel to SA to testify.

The Commission applied for a postponement in February this year when the witness, a Zimbabwean asylum seeker in the US, was prevented from boarding a plane to South Africa to testify in the matter in Pretoria.

His US refugee travel documents did not comply with South African legislation and regulations, according to a statement by the Tribunal.

The Tribunal said the asylum seeker was a crucial factual witness for the Commission, as the only who might be able to explain how the alleged cartel operated. He had previously worked for one of the companies implicated in the case.

Lengthy process

The two panel beating companies, Eldan Auto Body and Precision and Sons, opposed the Commission's application for a postponement. They argued that the case had been ongoing for a very long time and that they had incurred a great deal of costs.

In its order, the Tribunal said it was mindful of the fact that the matter had been postponed before and that it was first investigated five years ago.

The Tribunal has often expressed its concern at the length of time it takes to finalise matters before it, and said this cartel case was no exception. It found that both the Commission and Eldan Auto Body were culpable for the delay. It was satisfied that the Commission's application for a postponement as well as the broad public interest had been made in good faith and was justified.

Public interest

"… [T]he hearing must go ahead so that the allegations can be fully ventilated in the public interest and to give the respondents an opportunity of responding to and defending themselves against the Commission's cartel allegations against them," the Tribunal found.

Fin24 reported in July 2014 that Commission was conducting a search and seizure operation at a few companies operating in the auto panel beating sector in Pretoria. The Commission had obtained warrants to search the premises from the High Court in Pretoria.

Documents and electronic data were seized and analysed together with other information already gathered to determine whether a contravention of the Competition Act had taken place.

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