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Now it's NZ's turn to sue Pratt

Now it's NZ's turn to sue Pratt

Email Print Normal font Large font AdvertisementAdvertisementMatt O'Sullivan

November 23, 2007

DISGRACED billionaire Richard Pratt's woes have deepened after the New Zealand competition regulator accused his packaging company, Visy, of taking part in price-fixing in the cardboard box market across the Tasman.

In a case which is almost identical to that successfully pursued by the Australian competition regulator against Visy and its owner here, the New Zealand Commerce Commission yesterday filed a lawsuit in the High Court in Auckland against Visy and its New Zealand subsidiary, as well as three former or present Visy executives and an ex-Amcor executive. The executives face fines of up to $NZ500,000 ($430,000) each while Visy and its subsidiary face penalties of up to $NZ10 million per offence.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission gained the rights earlier this year to share more information with its regulatory counterparts overseas after changes to the Trade Practices Act.

The latest action comes just three weeks after the Federal Court imposed a record fine of $36 million on Mr Pratt and Visy, over an illegal cartel the company used to fix the price of cardboard boxes with packaging group Amcor.

Visy's former chief executive, Harry Debney, was also fined $1.5 million and another former executive, Rod Carroll, was fined $500,000. The cartel also claimed the jobs of Amcor's former chief executive, Russell Jones, and another former colleague, James Hodgson.

The Commerce Commission's allegations mirror those recently heard in the Federal Court in Melbourne. They centre on customer sharing, price fixing and bid-rigging in the supply of cardboard boxes in New Zealand between 2000 and 2004 - the same period during which the Amcor-Visy cartel took place in Australia's $2 billion cardboard box market.

The NZ regulator said some of the allegations brought against Visy and the executives were similar to those the ACCC successfully pursued against the company on this side of the Tasman.

Just as it was in the Australian lawsuit, Amcor has again been granted immunity from legal action in New Zealand after giving information about the alleged cartel to the Commerce Commission in December 2004. The packaging company reached a similar deal with the ACCC.

The Commerce Commission's chairwoman, Paula Rebstock, said businesses could expect the regulator to pursue "very strong action" against cartels because there were among the most serious forms of anti-competitive behaviour.

Visy said in a statement that the allegations were the same made in Australia and "to the extent there are specific allegations regarding New Zealand customers we intend to examine the evidence concerning those allegations". The company declined to comment further.

New Zealand's largest prosecution of a cartel occurred last year when fines totalling $NZ5 million were imposed on four companies, including Australian firm Osmose, for their part in a cartel in the timber preservation industry

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