Pharmaceutical ingredient company pleads guilty to criminal cartel charges

16 November 2021

Alkaloids of Australia Pty Ltd, a company which produces a pharmaceutical ingredient used in anti-spasmodic medication, has today pleaded guilty to criminal cartel conduct in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court.

Alkaloids of Australia pleaded guilty to three charges and admitted a further seven offences involving price fixing, bid rigging and market allocation cartel arrangements with other overseas pharmaceutical ingredient suppliers.

This comes only weeks after its former export manager, Christopher Kenneth Joyce, pleaded guilty to criminal cartel charges relating to the same conduct.

“Businesses that coordinate on prices, markets or bids for tenders should know that they are engaging in illegal cartel conduct. This type of conduct unfairly disadvantages other businesses and drives up prices for consumers,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“The ACCC is committed to pursuing these challenging investigations to detect and dismantle cartels and refer serious cartel conduct for prosecution.”

The charges relate to an ACCC investigation into the conduct which continued over a period of almost ten years from July 2009, when criminal cartel laws came into force in Australia.

The matter is being prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP).

Alkaloids of Australia has been committed to the Federal Court of Australia for sentencing, and the matter is next listed for a case management hearing on 25 November 2021.

As this matter is currently before the Court, the ACCC will not be providing further comment at this time.

Background

Alkaloids of Australia is a pharmaceutical ingredient company that produces and supplies SNBB (scopolamine N-butylbromide, also known as hyoscine butylbromide), which is an active pharmaceutical ingredient in antispasmodic medications taken to relieve stomach pain and bowel cramps. The company is based in Queensland and NSW.

SNBB is manufactured from the Duboisia plant, which is native to Australia. Duboisia plants are grown commercially in and around Kingaroy in Queensland for the pharmaceutical industry. SNBB is produced in Australia and the medications are then imported into Australia as a final product.

On 1 December 2020, Alkaloids of Australia and its former export manager, Christopher Joyce were charged with criminal cartel offences under the Competition and Consumer Act, formerly called the Trade Practices Act, following an ACCC investigation.  

On 26 October 2021, Christopher Joyce pleaded guilty to three charges, and admitted his guilt in respect of seven further offences, relating to his conduct in respect of cartel arrangements between Alkaloids of Australia and other SNBB suppliers.

Note to editors

The ACCC investigates cartel conduct, manages the immunity process and, in respect of civil cartel contraventions, takes proceedings in the Federal Court.

The CDPP is responsible for prosecuting criminal cartel offences in accordance with the Prosecution Policy of the Commonwealth. The ACCC refers serious cartel conduct to the CDPP for consideration of prosecution in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding between the CDPP and the ACCC regarding Serious Cartel Conduct.

For corporations, the maximum fine for each criminal cartel offence is the greater of:

  • $10 million,
  • three times the total benefits that have been obtained and are reasonably attributable to the commission of the offence, or
  • if the total value of the benefits cannot be determined, 10 per cent of the corporation’s annual turnover connected with Australia.

An individual convicted of a criminal cartel offence may be sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment or fined up to $444,000, or both.

Anyone with information about cartel conduct is urged to call the ACCC Cartel Hotline on (02) 9230 3894.

Release number: 
180/21
ACCC Infocentre: 

Use this form to make a general enquiry.

Media enquiries: 
Media Team - 1300 138 917, media@accc.gov.au

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