On 17 December 2010, the French Competition Authority ("the Authority") ended proceedings opened against several companies suspected of price fixing in the liquefied petroleum gas market, because Shell and its subsidiary Butagaz provided fabricated evidence for the purpose of their leniency request.
After several companies had filed complaints to the Authority about factual inconsistencies contained in some emails submitted by Shell and Butagaz as evidence, the General Rapporteur in charge of the case appointed a computer expert to explain these anomalies. The expert report established that the emails had been fabricated and/or altered.
Consequently, the Authority declared that the remaining evidence was insufficient to establish the alleged price fixing practice on the ground of article L.420-1 of the French Commerce Code and article 101 TFEU, and ended its investigations.
The Authority outlined the gravity of the disturbance of the investigations caused by Shell and Butagaz, who violated their obligation of genuine and full cooperation inherent to all leniency programs.
The Authority also outlined the possible consequences of manipulation or obstruction of investigations and underlined the importance of a careful and thorough monitoring of leniency requests.
For the companies submitting fabricated evidence, the risk is twofold: (i) the Authority can fine for obstructing investigations, up to an amount of 1% of their worldwide turnover and/or (ii) the President of the Authority can decide to bring an action before the criminal courts.
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