The Competition Commission is planning to expand its wide-ranging investigation of the grocery market to examine contracts that Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) drafted for its largest client Tesco.
The contracts relate to a land deal negotiated by BLP for Tesco and the North Norfolk District Council, as first revealed on www.the lawyer.com (5 July).
A Competition Commission spokesman told The Lawyer: “The accusation is that certain supermarkets are playing games with the [planning] system and building up a bank of land with no intention of developing it. Law firms act as the interface to these transactions, and competition law is a specialist field with which they have to interface. It’s certainly an area we’ll be looking closely at.”
BLP admitted in a 500-page report prepared by the council’s officers that contracts it had drafted prevented the council from selling land to rival supermarket chains.
North Norfolk councilors called for the inquiry after discovering that part of a 2003 deal to develop a Tesco store still prevented them from selling land to Budgens, despite the Tesco development stalling.
BLP declined to comment and referred all questions to Tesco.
A Tesco spokesman said he was not surprised that the Competition Commission would investigate. “The investigation by the council found no wrongdoing, and there’s absolutely no reason why our relationship with BLP would be affected,” he said.