China’s NDRC Uses Leniency Program to Uncover and Punish Members of Cartel

In what appears to be part of a continuing crackdown on price-fixing cartels, members of a cartel based in China’s southern Guangdong province have been fined more than RMB 750,000 ($120,000) in a recent action by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The cartel was found to have engaged in price-fixing activities that caused the price of sea sand, a valuable mineral used in construction and for land reclamation, to triple in a short period of time. Beginning in November 2010, the members of the cartel, more than 20 companies, organized a series of four secret meetings to coordinate the price of sea sand, according to the NDRC. In addition, to ensure implementation of the agreed prices, they established a mechanism to monitor compliance and punished those companies who broke the agreement or who refused to participate. The increase in the price of sea sand affected the price of concrete and consequently the cost of several ongoing construction projects, including the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, and attracted the attention of the government of Guangdong province, the NDRC said. The investigation revealed that the companies involved were fully aware that they were breaking the law and took steps to conceal their actions. As the authorities initially encountered difficulties in investigating the cartel, they targeted six core members and used the leniency program to obtain essential evidence, including the names of the participants and text messages between them. Fines were imposed on three of the cartel participants, two of whom were identified as organizers of the cartel and the third, who was identified as the primary beneficiary of the cartel. One of the two organizing companies had its fine reduced by 50 percent for voluntarily providing important evidence to the authorities under the leniency program. The other two companies each received the maximum fine permitted under the Anti-Monopoly Law of 10 percent of sales revenue for the preceding year. Other participants received a warning but no monetary penalty.