Commonwealth prosecutions of shipping companies for criminal cartel conduct have ended with Norwegian-based Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean AS being fined $24 million.
Federal Court Justice Michael Wigney said WWO "ostensibly competed" with other large global shipping companies bringing motor vehicles to Australia.
"From at least July 2009, however, WWO and a number of other global shipping companies gave effect to provisions in an arrangement or understanding which had the effect of limiting or distorting that competition," he said when handing down the fine on Thursday.
"That arrangement or understanding only came to an end in September 2012 when action was taken by the Japan Fair Trade Commission and the United States Department of Justice."
A subsequent investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission led to the criminal charges being laid against three companies.
All three have been convicted and fined a total of $83.5 million in Australia.
Justice Wigney said the conduct of WWO, which pleaded guilty on June 18, 2020, was covert, deliberate, systematic, and involved planning and deliberation.
The objective seriousness of WWO's conduct was less than Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaish and K-Line, he said.
But unlike these other companies, WWO was not entitled to any material discount for co-operation with the ACCC because it was not established that WWO had assisted the ACCC.
"It must be made clear to multinational corporations that they will be dealt with harshly if they give effect to cartel arrangements in a way which transgresses Australia's competition laws," the judge said.
ACCC chair Rod Sims said in a statement on Friday the WWO fine "brings this complex international criminal cartel investigation to a successful conclusion".
K-Line's $34.5 million fine in August 2019 remains the largest criminal fine ordered under the Competition and Consumer Act.
Australian Associated Press
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