JOHANNESBURG - Furniture removal company Stuttaford Van Lines has been charged with 649 counts of collusive tendering related to hundreds of government tenders issued for furniture transportation.

They include tenders issued by the Presidency, Parliament, the SA Secret Service, SAPS, the National Prosecuting Authority, SA Revenue Service (Sars), the SA Reserve Bank, Department of Justice, the Public Protector and state-owned enterprises (SOE’s) and private companies.

Sipho Ngwema, the head of communications at the Competition Commission, said on Wednesday that as a single company, Stuttaford faced the largest number of charges in the history of anti-cartel enforcement by the commission.

Ngwema said the commission had asked the Competition Tribunal to fine the company 10percent of its annual turnover on each of the 649 charges.

He confirmed the case against Stuttaford had been referred to the tribunal for adjudication.

It follows the commission in November 2010 initiating a complaint into alleged collusive conduct in contravention of the Competition Act in the market for the provision of furniture removal services, which uncovered widespread and deep-rooted anti-competitive and collusive conduct.

However, commission investigator Anthony Ndzabandzaba confirmed at a tribunal hearing in February last year that a new furniture removals industry collusion complaint had been initiated by the commission.

This follows commission investigators in October 2015 raiding the premises of four furniture removal firms.

The commission in 2015 confirmed it had conducted a search and seizure operation at the premises of Stuttaford Van Lines in Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein, Pickfords Removals in Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein, Afriworld in Bloemfontein and Cape Express Removals in Cape Town.

Ndzabandzaba had headed the commission’s first investigation, which formed part of a probe into 69 companies offering furniture removal services for colluding on tenders that revealed more than 3500 relocation tenders were subjected to collusion between 2007 and 2012.

Agreements

It found that 43 furniture removal companies were involved in prohibited collusive practices between 2007 and 2012.

By February last year, this resulted in 16 furniture removal firms since 2012 reaching settlement agreements with the commission and 13 firms not having settled cases against them.

Ndzabandzaba said during a tribunal consent settlement agreement hearing related to Key Moves in February last year that this agreement had been brought before the tribunal under the old settlement regime, following the tribunal directive to penalise those firms settling later at a higher level.

Ndzabandzaba told the tribunal in November 2015 that the commission had not been able to establish which companies had been the instigators or ring leaders of the cartel.



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