Price-fixing inquiry into flooring firms focuses on large multinational contracts
Competition Authority raids offices following allegations
The Google reception area in Dublin’s Barrow Street. In 2011 a tender was issued by a main contractor for flooring and carpeting as part of a fit-out of the 15-storey Monte Vetro building. Photograph: Alan Betson
The recent decision by the Competition Authority to raid the offices of some of the biggest industrial flooring contractors in the State was an aggressive move as it searched for evidence of price-fixing following allegations by a whistleblower.
The allegations remain unproven. The authority declined to provide any details of its investigation to The Irish Times other than to confirm that it is ongoing. But sources said the inquiry was at an advanced stage.
Crean Mosaics, Aston Carpets and Carpet Centre Contracts – three large-scale commercial and industrial flooring contractors who have all won lucrative contracts for buildings housing well-known companies – were raided in April.
At the raids authority officials, with the assistance of gardaí, took away files and computers in an effort to uncover evidence such as emails.
The authority was contacted early in 2012 by a whistleblower. It received allegations about bid-rigging on contracts where the bill was being paid by some of the biggest companies in the State, such as Google.
Google’s European headquarters are in Dublin’s Docklands, and in 2011 a tender was issued by a main contractor for flooring and carpeting as part of a fit-out of the 15-storey Monte Vetro building. Monte Vetro was originally developed by Treasury Holdings but Google bought the building for about €90 million from the National Asset Management Agency (Nama).
The Monte Vetro flooring contract would have been worth in the region of €300,000. It was eventually won by Carpet Centre Contracts, a major Dublin firm. An email sent by a senior executive of this company, its director Dave Radburn, was one of the sparks for the overall price-fixing investigation by the authority.
Mr Radburn declined to comment on the email yesterday. It was sent by him in October 2011, and addressed to Brendan Smith at Aston Carpets, another large firm.
It is understood by sources that the email was central to the authority’s decision to raid Crean Mosaics, Aston Carpets and Carpet Centre Contracts. It is now reviewing scores of contracts as it investigates several other allegations.
The companies under investigation are large-scale operations.
Crean Mosaics has worked across a wide range of building projects for some of the biggest names in corporate Ireland.
In 2011 it claimed to have been delivering 500 jobs a year, name-checking a host of well known business and other premises.
Established in 1982, it currently lists Annette, Carmel and Alan Crean, as well as Brian Ruane, as its directors. It is registered at The Square, Charlestown, Co Mayo.
Alan Crean is listed as being a director in seven other companies, including the Dublin-registered Aston Carpets.
According to a 2011 company brochure, Crean Mosaics has been involved in several high-end jobs, including work on the Wyeth Medica pharmaceutical plant in Kildare where the project was valued at €3.3 million; Eircom HQ (€2.25 million); Intel and Trinity College Dublin (both worth €1.5 million).