“Mr Ellis has pleaded guilty to inciting two fellow BlueScope employees to give false information and evidence to the ACCC regarding discussions he and those BlueScope employees had in meetings with certain steel companies. These matters were ‘rolled up’ into one obstruction charge, as part of Mr Ellis’ guilty plea, accepted by the court today,” the ACCC said in a statement.
The matter is now listed for a sentencing hearing in the Local Court on 8 December.
“This is the first time an individual has been charged with inciting the obstruction of a Commonwealth public official in relation to an ACCC investigation,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims.
The court matter involving Mr Ellis is separate to civil proceedings filed by the ACCC against BlueScope and Mr Ellis, which are before the Federal Court. In this case, the ACCC alleges that over the period between September 2013 and June 2014 BlueScope and Mr Ellis attempted to induce Australian steel distributors and overseas steel makers to enter into agreements containing a price fixing provision.
In the Federal Court case the ACCC has alleged that Mr Ellis had developed a so-called “carrot and stick” strategy, in a bid to increase prices for flat steel products in Australia. But in its defence filed in March this year BlueScope rejected these claims.
The competition watchdog has alleged that the strategy also involved threatening to lodge anti-dumping complaints against countries where steel manufacturers were based, “unless the price at which they sold Flat Steel Products to Australian Steel Distributors and/or Australian Steel Users was increased”.
In response to this claim BlueScope said in that it simply pursued anti-dumping actions where it believed that steel products were being illegally dumped in Australia.
The ACCC has told the Federal Court that BlueScope’s alleged attempts to induce breaches of cartel rules delivered the company a benefit, making it more likely that the company could raise or maintain its prices for Australian steel.
BlueScope has maintained since the legal action was announced last year that neither it, nor any of its current or former staff had engaged in cartel conduct.
A Global Asset Management Seoul Korea Magazine