The Federal Court has granted the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission leave to join Balgee Oil Pty Ltd (Externally Administered) and Mr Peter Muller, Balgee's Operation Manager to its current court action against petrol distributors and retailers in relation to alleged price-fixing. The ACCC has also expanded its allegations in its statement of claim.
"Companies should be aware that they cannot avoid ACCC action for contraventions of the Act by entering into administration", ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said today.
The ACCC alleges that Balgee, a distributor and retailer of petrol in the Ballarat region under the Mobil brand, entered into and gave effect to arrangements with its competitors to fix retail petrol prices in breach of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
It is alleged that Mr Muller directed Balgee staff to telephone competitors about retail prices. The ACCC further alleges in its expanded statement of claim that Mr Gourley was knowingly concerned in the alleged contraventions of the Act.
It is alleged that the arrangement involved:
- communication of the size and approximate time of price increases by telephone calls between competitors
- contacting retail sites to implement the price rise
- further telephone calls between competitors when a service station did not raise its price in order to have the site do so
- a number of meetings between competitors, including a meeting in the private home of an employee of Mobil Oil Australia
The ACCC alleges the arrangement pre-dated June 1999 and is seeking penalties for 69 occasions from June 1999 until December 2000 when it alleges the companies gave effect to the arrangement.
The ACCC instituted proceedings in May 2002 against the following companies and individuals in relation to these allegations:
- Leahy Petroleum Pty Ltd, Leahy Petroleum – Retail Pty Ltd and Mr Robin Palmer
- Triton 2001 Pty Ltd and Mr Anthony Rosenow
- Brumar (Vic) Pty Ltd and Mr Garry Dalton
- Justco Pty Ltd and Mr Justin Bentley
- Apco Service Stations Pty Ltd and Mr Peter Anderson
- J. Chisholm Pty Ltd
- Mr Gourley and Mr Levick of Balgee Oil Pty Ltd (Externally Administered).
The ACCC is seeking the following remedies:
- findings of fact
- the implementation of a trade practices compliance program
The next directions hearing is listed on 7 February 2003 in the Federal Court, Melbourne.
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