The CPC imposed a pecuniary sanction and fines on natural persons for failure to comply with the obligation for cooperation with the Commission in the exercise of its powers

11 10 2022

On 30.06.2022 the CPC carried out an inspection at the office of a leading retailer of toners and other printing supplies in the investigation of case No.CPC-377/2022. The proceedings is initiated to establish possible violations under Art. 15 of the LPC, consisting in a prohibited agreement and/or concerted practice (cartel) by the participants in centralized electronically procurements of office supplies conducted by the Ministry of Finance.

The inspection was carried out in the presence of the company's managers, employees and lawyers, who were invited by the inspection team to provide all e-mail addresses they use for official correspondence, as well as to ensure full access of the Commission's staff to the company's information systems and servers.

The inspection team was granted partial access to electronic mailboxes, the content of some of which was collected. Subsequently, in the course of the review of the seized electronic correspondence, it was found that the company's representatives and employees actively used two other e-mail addresses for correspondence in connection with the company's work, which, however, had not been provided to the inspection team despite an explicit invitation.

Next, the Commission found that during the inspection, Commission staff discovered an installed real-time messaging software application used by one of the managers. It was found that correspondence with managers of competing companies had been conducted through this application, but the content of these messages had been partially or completely deleted during the inspection.

In the course of the inspection, the undertaking also failed to provide full access to the company's information systems and servers in use. After a delay of nearly 5 hours from the start of the inspection, the system administrator who services the company stated that he did not have an administrator account or administrator rights and could not provide the requested access.

At the same time, however, after leaving the company's office, the Commission found that the system administrator had been instructed to connect via a software application with a remote access function to a company employee's computer on which at that moment action was being taken by the Commission's IT expert.

As a result of the limited access, the Commission was only able to seize copies of files and email accounts of a limited number of the company's employees and managers.

 

Unsealing of the seized digital evidence after the inspection, the Commission found that the non-granting access the information systems and servers had led to a manipulation of company information.The violation resulted in a permanent inability of the CPC staff to exercise their powers under Art. 50, para 2 of the LPC to acquire access, review and seize electronic and digital evidence during the inspection. It also completely obstructs the Commission's ability to obtain the contents of the computers and mailboxes as they were on the day of the inspection.

The Commission for Protection of Competition set the pecuniary sanction at BGN 50 000 (fifty thousand), which is within the maximum amount allowed by the law of 1% of the revenues of the undertaking and fines for the natural persons who assisted in the failure to comply with the obligation for cooperation in the amount of BGN 500 for each of them. The sanction and fines thus determined correspond to the nature and gravity of the specific infringement, having a preventive effect against future infringements of the LPC.

The decision can be appealed.

 

The full text of the decision is available in the CPC's public electronic register at: https://reg.cpc.bg.

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