Re­moval firm hit with 649 charges

Most in anti-car­tel his­tory

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Roy Cokayne

FUR­NI­TURE re­moval com­pany Stuttaford Van Lines has been charged with 649 counts of col­lu­sive ten­der­ing re­lated to hun­dreds of gov­ern­ment ten­ders is­sued for fur­ni­ture trans­porta­tion.

They in­clude ten­ders is­sued by the Pres­i­dency, Par­lia­ment, the SA Se­cret Ser­vice, SAPS, the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Author­ity, SA Rev­enue Ser­vice (Sars), the SA Re­serve Bank, Depart­ment of Jus­tice, the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor and state-owned en­ter­prises (SOE’s) and pri­vate com­pa­nies.

Sipho Ng­wema, the head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion, said yes­ter­day that as a sin­gle com­pany, Stuttaford faced the largest num­ber of charges in the his­tory of anti-car­tel en­force­ment by the com­mis­sion.

Ng­wema said the com­mis­sion had asked the Com­pe­ti­tion Tri­bunal to fine the com­pany 10 per­cent of its an­nual turnover on each of the 649 charges.

He con­firmed the case against Stuttaford had been re­ferred to the tri­bunal for ad­ju­di­ca­tion.

It fol­lows the com­mis­sion in Novem­ber 2010 ini­ti­at­ing a com­plaint into al­leged col­lu­sive con­duct in con­tra­ven­tion of the Com­pe­ti­tion Act in the mar­ket for the pro­vi­sion of fur­ni­ture re­moval ser­vices, which un­cov­ered wide­spread and deep-rooted anti-com­pet­i­tive and col­lu­sive con­duct.

How­ever, com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tor An­thony Ndz­a­bandz­aba con­firmed at a tri­bunal hearing in Fe­bru­ary last year that a new fur­ni­ture re­movals in­dus­try col­lu­sion com­plaint had been ini­ti­ated by the com­mis­sion.

This fol­lows com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tors in Oc­to­ber 2015 raid­ing the premises of four fur­ni­ture re­moval firms.

The com­mis­sion in 2015 con­firmed it had con­ducted a search and seizure oper­a­tion at the premises of Stuttaford Van Lines in Port El­iz­a­beth and Bloem­fontein, Pick­fords Re­movals in Port El­iz­a­beth and Bloem­fontein, Afri­world in Bloem­fontein and Cape Ex­press Re­movals in Cape Town.

Ndz­a­bandz­aba had headed the com­mis­sion’s first in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which formed part of a probe into 69 com­pa­nies of­fer­ing fur­ni­ture re­moval ser­vices for col­lud­ing on ten­ders that re­vealed more than 3 500 re­lo­ca­tion ten­ders were sub­jected to col­lu­sion between 2007 and 2012.

Agree­ments

It found that 43 fur­ni­ture re­moval com­pa­nies were in­volved in pro­hib­ited col­lu­sive prac­tices between 2007 and 2012.

By Fe­bru­ary last year, this re­sulted in 16 fur­ni­ture re­moval firms since 2012 reach­ing set­tle­ment agree­ments with the com­mis­sion and 13 firms not hav­ing set­tled cases against them.

Ndz­a­bandz­aba said dur­ing a tri­bunal con­sent set­tle­ment agree­ment hearing re­lated to Key Moves in Fe­bru­ary last year that this agree­ment had been brought be­fore the tri­bunal un­der the old set­tle­ment regime, fol­low­ing the tri­bunal di­rec­tive to pe­nalise those firms set­tling later at a higher level.

Ndz­a­bandz­aba told the tri­bunal in Novem­ber 2015 that the com­mis­sion had not been able to es­tab­lish which com­pa­nies had been the in­sti­ga­tors or ring lead­ers of the car­tel.

PHOTO: SIMPHIWE MBOKAZI

Stuttaford Van Lines faces myr­iad charges.

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