The Competition Commission on Friday welcomed a High Court ruling in its favour permitting it to review evidence seized during an investigation into alleged cartel activity by five manufacturers of refined edible cooking oils, baking fats and margarine in South Africa.
Early in March, DH Brothers Industries, trading as Willowton Oil and Cake Mills, and Wilmar Continental Edible Oils and Fats respectively approached the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng divisions of the High Court of South Africa seeking an order interdicting the commission from reviewing the evidence it seized from their offices during a search and seizure operation in December.
In both cases, the courts, from where the commission obtained the search and seizure warrants, ruled in favour of the commission, dismissing the applications and allowing the commission to move forward with its review of the seized evidence as part of its investigation.
“The commission maintains that it has reasonable grounds to suspect that Willowton, Wilmar, FR Waring, Africa Sun Oil Refineries and Epic Foods are engaged in cartel conduct which includes price fixing,” the commission said in a statement on Friday.
All of the manufacturers, excluding Epic Foods, that have been accused of cartel conduct had approached the High Court in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in a bid to interdict the commission from reviewing the seized documents.
On March 20, the commission planned to file its answering papers opposing Africa Sun Oil’s bid in the High Court in KwaZulu-Natal to interdict the review of seized documents from its offices.
The commission also aimed to file, by March 22, its intention to oppose the application by FR Waring to set aside the search and seizure warrant, also in the High Court in KwaZulu-Natal.
“The search and seizure operation was conducted with due regard to the rights of all the affected persons. We will, therefore, not be swayed in our efforts to clamp down on the exploitation of consumers by cartels, particularly in the food and agroprocessing sector,” Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele assured.