Judge snarls at competition watchdog for misleading court
A judge has castigated the Competition Commission for misleading a court before mounting dawn raids on five companies.
Judge Isaac Madondo said the commission was “guilty of a serious breach of its duty of good faith” when it concealed information from the court that granted search warrants.
Ruling in the high court in Pietermaritzburg‚ the deputy judge president of KwaZulu-Natal ordered the commission to return everything it seized in raids on two companies in the edible oils business.
Similar cases are pending in other courts following the raids in December 2016.
When the commission applied for the search warrants‚ it said it had “reasonable belief grounded on information on oath” that the companies were involved in price-fixing and collusion.
But Madondo said this was not the case. The managing director of Sea Lake Investments‚ Mahomed Essack‚ had actually complained to the commission that competitors were “muscling in” by trying to stop Shoprite Checkers stocking its products.
The commission “withheld relevant information from the court and mischaracterised the true facts”‚ said Madondo.
Before the raids took place‚ Essack was offered indemnity by the commission if he provided evidence of collusive practices. He told it he had no evidence‚ but the commission went ahead with its search warrant applications anyway.
The court agreed with the oil manufacturers that the warrants were granted on grounds of conjecture‚ speculation and hearsay.
Masondo said: “Courts must closely regulate and scrutinise the issue and execution of search warrants because they involve a serious encroachment of rights and amount to an invasion of privacy.”
He awarded costs to Willowton Oil and Cake Mills and FR Waring Holdings.