EU Adviser Backs Germany’s Nordzucker Over Double Jeopardy Risk In Antitrust Cases

Germany’s second largest sugar refiner Nordzucker should not be penalized twice for the same antitrust offence, an advisor to Europe’s top court said on Thursday, September 2, but said a separate case involving Belgian postal operator Bpost faces no such double jeopardy risk, reported Reuters.

According to Reuters, Nordzucker and its rival Suedzucker, Europe’s largest sugar producer, were fined by the German antitrust regulator in 2014 for taking part in a cartel. The Austrian competition watchdog is seeking to issue a declaration that both companies also breached national cartel laws.

Bpost was fined first by Belgium’s postal watchdog and then by the antitrust authority for the same offence, prompting the company to challenge the antitrust fine.

The separate cases came before the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) after the Belgian tribunal and an Austrian court sought guidance as to whether the companies are being charged for the same conduct.

Michal Bobek, an advocate general or adviser to the CJEU, said Nordzucker should not be sanctioned twice for the same wrongdoing if the temporal and geographical scope of both cases against the company are the same, reported Reuters.

The legal principle “ne bis in idem” means that people cannot be charged twice for the same offense, which ensures legal certainty and equality for companies.

“The principle ne bis in idem enshrined in the Charter (of Fundamental Rights of the EU) prevents a national competition authority or a court from sanctioning an anti-competitive conduct that was already the object of previous proceedings concluded by a final decision adopted by another national competition authority,” he said in a non-binding opinion.

In the case of Bpost there is no risk of double jeopardy, Bobek said.

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