Flooring company faces charges over price fixing
Criminal proceedings follow investigation by competition protection body
Google’s builing on Barrow St, Dublin. It is understood that one of the projects undertaken by the flooring contractor was for Google. Photograph: Paul McErlane/Bloomberg
One of the largest industrial flooring contractor companies in the State, and a former director, are facing trial on charges of alleged price-fixing and market sharing in the flooring fit out of some major industrial projects.
It is understood the projects include one of Google’s landmark buildings in Dublin, the Google docks building, previously known as Monte Vetro.
The criminal proceedings follow an investigation into alleged price fixing by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), the body formed from the merger of the Competition Authority and National Consumer Agency.
They are against Aston Carpets and Flooring Ltd (ACF), wth registered offices at The Square, Charlestown, Co Mayo, and against Brendan Smith (38), Greenane, Dunshaughlin, Co Meath, a former director of the company. Mr Smith is additionally charged with allegedly intentionally telling a named businessman, linked with another flooring company, to delete emails, or words to that effect, when Mr Smith knew such emails were relevant to the investigation being carried out by the Commission.
Because they relate to alleged price-fixing agreements on dates between 2011 and 2013, a period when the relevant law was amended, the charges are brought under the Competition Act 2002 and the amended Competition Act of 2012.
On conviction, the 2002 provisions carry penalties of up to five years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of €4 million or ten per cent of turnover, whichever is greater. The 2012 Act increased the fine to €5m and doubled the maximum jail term to ten years.
Consenting to trial
The District Court was told on Monday the DPP was consenting to trial at the Central Criminal Court of ACF and Mr Smith, separately represented, on a number of charges set out in the Book of Evidence.
Judge John O’Neill heard Alan Crean, a Co Mayo businessman and founder of ACF, was accepting the Book of Evidence on behalf of ACF.
Detective Sergeant Joseph McLoughlin, who has been assigned from the Garda Fraud Squad to the Commission for its investigation, handed in various documents to Judge John O’Neill.
After considering the relevant legal documents, Judge O’Neill returned the charges against Mr Smith and the company to the next sittings of the Central Criminal Court.
Having been told there was no objection to bail for Mr Smith, the Judge fixd bail in Mr Smith’s own bond of €500. He also granted an order allowing for the presentation of video evidence.
The charges allege that, on dates between January 1st 2011 and July 2nd 2012, and between July 3rd 2012 and April 30th 2013, ACF and Mr Smith engaged in implementing an agreement with another named company which indirectly fixed prices of carpets and flooring in breach of provisions of the Competition Acts of 2002 and 2012.
It is claimed the alleged agreement had, as its object or effect, the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition in the trade of providing flooring or carpets in that it indirectly fixed the prices of those.
The alleged agreement, it is also claimed, fixed prices by obliging either ACF or the other named company to quote flooring or carpet prices that were higher than those quoted by the other company.
The charges allege that ACF, in allegedly entering such an agreement, shared the market for goods and services and withdrew from meaningful competition.