Norwegian-based global shipping company Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean AS (WWO) has been convicted of criminal cartel conduct and ordered by the Federal Court to pay a fine of $24 million.
The case, prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP), followed an extensive investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into an international cartel involving several international shipping companies in relation to the shipping of vehicles to Australia from Asia, Europe and the United States on behalf of major car manufacturers.
In Australia, three international shipping companies have been convicted and fined a total of $83.5m in relation to this cartel, after detailed investigations by the ACCC. In August 2017, Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK) was fined $25 million, while K-Line was fined $34.5 million in August 2019, which remains the largest criminal fine ordered under the Competition and Consumer Act.
In the most recent conviction, Justice Wigney noted that this was the third criminal prosecution arising from a global cartel in a market of considerable economic importance for Australia.
He said that “on just about any view, this was an extremely serious offence against Australia’s laws which prohibit cartel conduct”, and WWO’s conduct was covert, deliberate, systematic, and involved planning and deliberation.
He also said that, while the objective seriousness of WWO’s conduct was less than NYK and K-Line, unlike those other companies WWO was not entitled to any material discount for co-operation with the ACCC because it was not established that WWO had provided any assistance to the ACCC.
“The $24m fine for WWO brings this complex international criminal cartel investigation to a successful conclusion,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.
“Notably, Justice Wigney emphasised that the fine imposed on WWO ‘was intended to send a powerful message to multinational corporations that conduct business in Australia: that anti-competitive conduct will not be tolerated in Australia and that they will be dealt with harshly by this Court if found to have engaged in such conduct’.
“The three shipping companies were the subject of our first criminal cartel investigations after a change in the law came into effect in July 2009, introducing criminal cartel offences,” Mr Sims said.