Following initial applications in October 2020 (Link) and April 2021 (Link), the Austrian Federal Competition Authority (AFCA) filed another application on 14. July 2021 to impose a fine as part of its investigations into the Austrian construction industry. Specifically, the application concerns two companies from the STRABAG Group (“STRABAG”), with the AFCA applying to impose a fine of EUR 45.37 million.
STRABAG applied for leniency and subsequently cooperated fully and on a continuous basis. STRABAG has also implemented a certified compliance system and novel monitoring system to prevent future breaches of the ban on cartels. In addition, as part of its cooperation with the AFCA, and with the involvement of the Federal Cartel Prosecutor, STRABAG has acknowledged the breach for use in proceedings before the Cartel Court. The AFCA has therefore applied for a reduction in the fine.
Economic sector concerned
The economic sector concerned includes the planning and execution of building construction and civil engineering projects (e.g. road building, bridge and canal construction, as well as construction of office and residential buildings).
Investigations conducted by AFCA to date
In spring 2017, the AFCA carried out dawn raids as part of its investigation into potential anti-competitive arrangements among construction companies, in the course of which it also impounded large amounts of data. In autumn 2019, the AFCA submitted its initial statement of objections to the companies concerned. A statement of objections is a formal step in AFCA investigations informing the parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them. Investigations into the other participating companies are ongoing, and will lead to further applications in due course.
Fines for cartels
The Austrian Federal Cartel Act prohibits any behaviour that prevents or distorts competition. This covers price fixing agreements or the division of markets or territories. At the AFCA’s request, the Cartel Court may impose fines of up to 10% of an entity’s total turnover generated in the preceding business year if that entity is found to have breached the rules banning cartels. Fines are assessed on the basis of the gravity and duration of the breach, the degree of fault, and the economic strength and cooperation of the company concerned.