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Competition Law

Analysis - debate - current awareness

03 APR 2012

Costly diversion

The European Commission has fined Czech energy giant (Energetický a průmyslový) and its investment advisors € 2.5 million for obstructing an inspection carried out by Commission officials in November 2009 at their premises in Prague as part of an antitrust investigation.  The companies failed to block an email account and diverted incoming emails, in breach of their obligations to cooperate with Commission officials during such inspections and to disclose all documents relevant to the investigation.

On 24 November 2009, after the notification of the inspection decision, the Commission's inspectors requested that e-mail accounts of key persons be blocked until further notice.  This was done by setting a new password known only to the Commission inspectors and is standard practice at the beginning of inspections, designed to ensure that inspectors have exclusive access to the content of email accounts and to prevent modifications to those accounts while they are searched.

On the second day of the inspection the Commission's inspectors discovered that the password for one account had been modified in the course of the first day in order to allow the account holder to access the account.

On the third day of the inspection, the Commission's inspectors discovered that one of the employees had requested the IT department on the previous day to divert all e-mails arriving in certain blocked accounts away from these accounts to a computer server.

The company admitted that this procedure had been implemented for at least one e-mail account. As a result, the incoming e-mails did not become visible in the inboxes concerned, they could not be searched by inspectors and their integrity could be compromised.

John Cassels

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