Competition: European Commission cannot conduct a ‘fishing expedition’ during a dawn raid

In two recent judgments, the European General Court (the General Court) has provided insight into the vexed question of just how far a competition authority can go when it carries out a “dawn raid” of business premises during a cartel investigation. The judgments confirm that the European Commission is not entitled to go on a “fishing expedition” when conducting a dawn raid. It must limit its inspection to activities where there is a suspicion of infringement. It cannot use the opportunity to search premises for documents relating to all company activities.

The General Court reached this conclusion on 14 November 2012, in response to legal challenges (cases T-135/09 and T-140/09) by two companies, Nexans and Prysmian, in relation to an investigation into the electrical cables sector.

In January 2009, Nexans and Prysmian were ordered to submit to an inspection in relation to the supply of electrical cables and materials including high-voltage underwater electric cables and high-voltage underground electric cables…

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