The European Commission has started ‘unannounced inspections’ at the premises of a company active in the energy drinks sector across various Member States.
According to the Commission, the raids follow concerns that the company in question may have violated EU antitrust rules.
Such rules – including Article 101 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union and Article 53 of the European Economic Area Agreement – prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices.
The inspected company may also have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit abuses of a dominant position, noted the Commission.
Regulators have not disclosed the name of the company, but Austria-headquartered Red Bull say officials of the EU Commission visited its premises on 20 March. “We will cooperate with them in any matters that may concern them,” the company noted in a statement.
The Commission stressed that the fact it carries out unannounced inspections does not mean the company is guilty of anti-competitive behaviour, but just that it is a preliminary step in an investigation into suspected anticompetitive practices.
Under the Commission’s leniency programme, companies that have been involved in a secret cartel may be granted immunity from fines or significant reductions in fines for reporting the conduct and cooperating with the Commission through its investigation.
This is what happened in 2019, for example, when the European Commission fined French food cooperative Cecab and Dutch manufacturer Cooros upwards of €30m for their involvement in a canned vegetable cartel. Whistle-blower Bonduelle however, who also participated in the anti-competitive syndicate, was granted full immunity and made exempt from financial penalties.