Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said: “Companies have the obligation to provide correct information when we investigate. Also during inspections. They should not tamper with the requested data in any way. Such behaviour would threaten the integrity and effectiveness of our investigations. We want to make sure that companies comply with our rules."
The Commission carried out inspections at the ZSSK premises in June 2016. The Commission suspected that ZSSK may have entered into anti-competitive agreements aimed at shutting out competing rail passenger transport operators from the market, in breach of EU antitrust rules (Articles 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). The purpose of the ongoing inquiry is to verify whether these concerns have any merits and need to be followed up.
The power to carry out inspections is one of the Commission's most important investigative tools to detect infringements of the antitrust rules.
During an inspection, inspectors are empowered – among other things – to examine and take copies of documents related to the business, irrespective of the medium on which they are stored. The companies must provide full support to the Commission's inspectors. EU rules governing antitrust investigations require companies under investigation to submit to the inspection. Failure to do so can lead to the imposition of fines of up to 1% of their annual total turnover.
At this stage, the Commission has concerns that ZSSK may have obstructed the inspection in the following ways:
- It may have provided incorrect information on the location of the laptop of one of its employees.
- It may have failed to provide requested data from this laptop by allowing its re-installation, which led to an irrecoverable loss of the stored data.
The Commission takes the preliminary view that by this behaviour ZSSK may have infringed its obligation to comply with the inspectors under the antitrust Regulation 1/2003.
Sending a Statement of Objections does not prejudge the final outcome of the procedure.
ZSSK is the Slovak rail incumbent, providing both passenger and freight transport services.
A Statement of Objections is a formal step in Commission investigations into suspected violations of EU antitrust rules. The Commission informs the parties concerned, in writing, of the objections raised against them. The companies can then examine the documents on the Commission's investigation file, reply in writing and request an oral hearing to present their comments on the case before representatives of the Commission and national competition authorities.
There is no legal deadline for the Commission to complete antitrust inquiries into anticompetitive conduct. The duration of an antitrust investigation depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the case, the extent to which the undertaking concerned cooperates with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.
Companies' obligations to cooperate with Commission officials during an inspection, to give correct information and to give access to all documents relevant to an antitrust investigation are laid down in Council Regulation 1/2003 (Articles 20(4) and 23).
More information on this investigation will be available on the Commission's competition website, in the public case register under the reference AT.40565.