Certified Merc body repairer agrees to price fixing charge, pays R750,000 fine

A Pretoria panel beating company has agreed to pay a R750,000 fine for price fixing.
A Pretoria panel beating company has agreed to pay a R750,000 fine for price fixing.
Image: 123rf.com/Dmytro Kozyrskyi

In a long-running panel beating cartel case, the Competition Tribunal has confirmed a settlement agreement between the Competition Commission and one of the accused companies, Eldan Auto Body.

The tribunal said Eldan agreed it engaged in conduct in contravention of the Competition Act, and agreed to pay a fine of R750,000.

In 2015, the Competition Commission accused Eldan Auto and another company, Precision and Sons, of price fixing, dividing markets and collusive tendering in the provision of auto body repair services in Pretoria.

These are two of the three certified Mercedes-Benz auto body repairers located in Pretoria.

The complaint dates back as far as June 2014, when the commission launched an investigation into the two companies.

After its investigation, the commission found both companies had discussed and agreed to exchange cover quotes from 2011.

It also found they had co-ordinated their collusive arrangement through the Vehicle Accident Assessment Centre (VAAC), which renders vehicle assessment services to their customers.

The commission found communication happened directly between employees of the two firms or through VAAC, where some vehicles for repair were sometimes assessed.

In May 2015, the commission referred a complaint to the tribunal and alleged the companies engaged in collusive tendering. Eldan Auto has admitted it engaged in conduct in contravention of the Competition Act.

In terms of the consent agreement, which was made an order of the tribunal, Eldan also agreed to co-operate with the commission in relation to the prosecution of the complaint against the remaining company

The tribunal still has to hear the referral complaint against Precision and Sons.

In November last year, the tribunal refused an application brought by Precision and Sons  to have the commission's referral complaint dismissed on the basis that the commission failed to secure the attendance of a key witness.

That witness was set to give oral testimony in the complaint proceedings at the tribunal which were originally set to start in March 2017. The witness, based in the US, was unable to come to SA for various reasons.

The tribunal dismissed Precision and Sons' application in November last year, stating it would serve both the public interest and the interests of the companies for the matter to be heard on merits, especially as serious allegations have been made against the companies.