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Competition

Competition: Statement on unannounced inspections in oil and biofuels sector

14.5.2013

PR(13)43

The EFTA Surveillance Authority can confirm that the Authority today carried out an unannounced inspection in Norway concerning activities in and the provision of services to the crude oil, refined oil products and biofuel sectors. 

The European Commission has concerns that the undertakings concerned may have infringed the competition rules of the EEA Agreement and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. 

The Authority was acting on a request from the European Commission who is the competent surveillance authority under the EEA Agreement to investigate the case. In carrying out the inspection, the Authority was assisted by officials from the European Commission and the Norwegian Competition Authority. 

The evidence gathered in Norway by the Authority will be transmitted to the European Commission for further review. 

Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected anti-competitive practices or abuse of a dominant position. The fact that the Authority or the European Commission carry out such inspections does not mean that the undertakings are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour; nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. 

There is no strict deadline to complete inquiries into possible anti-competitive conduct. The duration of such inquiries depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate and the exercise of the rights of defence. 

For further information, please see the European Commission's press release or contact the European Commission's spokesperson:

Mr. Antoine Colombani

tel. (+32)(0)2 297 45 13



Background Note

Inspection of companies

The Authority has the power to conduct inspections of companies where necessary in order to carry out the duties assigned to it in the field of competition. Inspections are a preliminary step in antitrust investigations and do not imply that the company inspected is guilty of anti-competitive behaviour. During an antitrust investigation, the rights of defence of the companies involved are fully respected. 

What are inspections?

When necessary to fulfil the duties assigned to it in the field of competition, the Authority may carry out on-the-spot inspections at premises of companies in the EFTA States.  During inspections the Authority is empowered to examine and take copies of books and business records, also in electronic form, and to ask representatives and members of staff for explanations.

Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected anti-competitive practices.  The fact that the Authority carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour; nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.

There is no strict deadline within which antitrust inquiries should be completed. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned cooperate and the exercise of the rights of defence. 

What are Authority inspectors empowered to do?

During inspections, the Authority inspectors are allowed to carry out a number of tasks in order to enable them to collect information.  This includes being able to enter premises, to examine the records and documents related to the business (both physical and digital), to take copies (both physical and digital), to seal any business premises and documents, to ask company employees for explanations on facts or documents relating to the inspection and to record the answers. 

How long do inspectors spend on site?

The time required to complete an inspection at the premises of an undertaking under investigation varies from case to case depending on a number of factors, including the complexity of the relevant product markets, the nature of the suspected anti-competitive practices, the scope of the records and documents to be reviewed, the manner in which the documents are stored and organised, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate etc.

In the majority of cases, the inspection at the premises of undertakings would take several days.

 

This is a European Commission case. Why is the Authority inspecting undertakings in Norway and not the European Commission?

There are several authorities who can investigate possible infringements of the EEA competition rules: The European Commission, the EFTA Surveillance Authority and the national competition authorities of the EFTA States.

In cases under the EEA Agreement that are dealt with by the European Commission, the Commission can ask the Authority to conduct inspections at the premises of undertakings situated in the EFTA States. This is an example of cooperation between the two surveillance authorities under the EEA Agreement. The Commission is not empowered to carry out inspections on the territory of the EFTA States itself.

 





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