Nabarro advises Mercedes-Benz on OFT probe

Nabarro EU competition head Cyrus Mehta is advising Mercedes-Benz in relation to an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) investigation into whether the car maker and five commercial vehicle dealers infringed competition law.

The firm has been on the panel for Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler for several years and was instructed in 2010 when the OFT began its investigation with dawn raids.

The OFT is alleging that five dealers of Mercedes-Benz trucks and vans – Ciceley Commercials Limited, Enza Motors Limited, H & L Garages, Northside Truck & Van Limited, Road Range Limited – and their parents companies infringed competition law on five occasions.

They are provisional findings and the companies will now have the chance to respond.

The accusation is that van and truck dealers, to varying degrees and on different occasions between March 2007 and January 2010, were involved in market sharing, price co-ordination and/or exchange of commercially sensitive information.

Each alleged infringement involved two or three dealers.

The OFT claims that Mercedes-Benz helped to facilitate or consolidate the arrangements among the dealers.

Ali Nikpay, OFT senior director of cartels, said: “Based on the evidence currently before us, we have reason to believe that these dealers co-operated to limit competition in their areas.

“This case, which involves dealers who are mainly active in areas within the North of England and parts of Wales and Scotland, shows the OFT’s commitment to pursuing allegations of serious competition law infringements irrespective of the size of the companies involved or the geographic scope of the case.

“These are the OFT’s provisional findings only. All parties will now have a full opportunity to respond to our statement before we decide whether competition law has in fact been infringed.”

Nabarro partner Mehta and senior associate Ilan Sherr successfully represented Mercedes-Benz in the past six months, with the OFT dropping a separate criminal and civil probe into alleged agreements between Mercedes and a cartel of truckmakers.

However, The European Commission continues to run a parallel case examining the same anti-trust allegations.

Mercedes-Benz issued a statement that read: “We now have detailed information about the investigation of the OFT for the first time. We’ll analyse the information and then give our feedback to the OFT.

“We cannot comment further in an ongoing procedure, and we’ll continue to co-operate with the authorities.”