The Commission welcomes yesterday’s decision of the High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Division, Pretoria, dismissing an application by Farmers Trust CC to set aside the Commission’s search warrant in the Fresh Produce Market Agents matter.
The failed bid followed a search and seizure operation conducted by the Commission on 23 March 2017 at the premises of nine fresh produce market agents in Gauteng. A similar operation was conducted in Cape Town and Durban the following day. The raids formed part of an investigation into allegations of cartel conduct and the Commission had obtained search and seizure warrants from the High Court in terms of section 46 of the Competition Act.
One of the respondents in the matter, Farmers Trust CC (Farmers Trust) approached the High Court in a bid to have the search warrant set aside. The company argued, among others, that the warrant should not have been granted on an urgent basis and that statements contained in the Commission’s affidavit (in its application for the warrant) constituted inadmissible hearsay evidence. Farmers Trust also maintained that it should have been informed about the Commission’s application for the search warrant prior to issuing it.
The Court ruled in the Commission’s favour, dismissing the application to set aside the search warrant with costs: The court said: “The Act aims to serve the greater good and it is self-evident that in order to be able to do so the Commission must be able to investigate a complaint properly. It will be counterproductive if the Commission is required to inform a party about the possibility of a search and seizure as it will defeat the purpose of an investigation. Under these circumstances it is justifiable that a suspected firm is not given notice of the application in terms of section”.
The agents, which serve as fresh produce market intermediaries between farmers and buyers of freshly produced fruits and vegetables in South Africa, are suspected of being involved in price fixing conduct in contravention of the Competition Act.
The Commission has reasonable grounds to suspect that the agents entered into an agreement and/or engaged in a concerted practice to fix the price and trading conditions for the supply of freshly produced fruits and vegetables in South Africa. This conduct is alleged to be ongoing.
The agents’ activities mainly include selling fresh fruits and vegetables on behalf of farmers, for a commission, to buyers including wholesalers, retailers and hawkers.
Issued by Competition Commission of South Africa