On 23 September, the Senate of the Republic of Latvia annulled the judgment of the Administrative Regional Court in the case of the Volkswagen car distribution cartel, by which in 2018 the violation established by the Competition Council (the CC) and the fine imposed on SIA “Moller Auto Latvia” and SE Moller Baltic Import, as well as the fine imposed on SIA “Moller Auto Ventspils” and SIA “Moller Auto Krasta” were cancelled. The Senate decided that the conclusions of the administrative court were not sufficiently substantiated to annul the decision of the CC, therefore it decided that the case should be sent for reconsideration to the Administrative Regional Court.
In 2014, the CC found that a number of Moller group dealers involved in the distribution of Volkswagen cars had systematically coordinated their participation in procurements by private companies, public administrations and agencies, as well as municipalities and schools for at least five years (school buses), nursing homes, home affairs institutions and others. Furthermore, dealers had regularly informed each other about their plans regarding different procurements and asked others not to compete by taking part in a procurement or not to offer lower prices. Volkswagen dealers received a fine in the total amount of EUR 7.6 million for the cartel.
In the Regional Court, the CC's adopted decision on the establishment of an infringement and the imposition of fines was challenged by SIA "Moller Auto Latvia", SE Moller Baltic Import, SIA "Moller Auto Ventspils" and SIA "Moller Auto Krasta". The regional court with a 2018 judgment satisfied the applications of SIA "Moller Auto Latvia" and SE Moller Baltic Import. Whereas, concerning SIA “Moller Auto Ventspils” and SIA “Moller Auto Krasta”, it was acknowledged that the finding of an infringement was correct but that the decision on the fine must be annulled.
The Senate disagreed with the Regional Court's consideration on the Volkswagen distribution network member prohibited agreement's division into three different and autonomously assessed agreements. The Senate explained that the dealers' agreement on the submission of a price or cover offer is not fundamentally different from the situation if a dealer acts passively in the tender because of the agreement and does not submit his competing offer. Such action may characterize the various manifestations of the cartel, adapting to the specific nature of the procurement in question, but it is not a sufficient basis for subdividing the dealers' activities into separate agreements.
The Senate also acknowledged that the review of the cartel in the Regional Court proceedings had not taken place in a procedurally fair manner against the CC. The Senate explained that in the court proceedings, a logical and consecutive interplay between the statements and objections of both parties often develops. Therefore, when initiating a new set of circumstances in order to examine the grounds of the applicant's objections, the court may not restrict the possibility for the institution to submit further arguments and evidence to verify the correctness of the grounds included in the decision.
The judgment of the Senate cannot be appealed, and the case has been referred for reconsideration to the Regional Administrative Court.