The High Court of South Africa has dismissed an application by Farmers Trust to set aside the Competition Commission’s search warrant in an investigation into alleged cartel and price-fixing conduct by fresh produce market agents.
The failed bid followed a search and seizure operation conducted by the commission in March at the premises of nine fresh produce market agents in Gauteng. A similar operation was conducted in Cape Town and Durban in the same month.
The raids formed part of an investigation into allegations of cartel conduct and price fixing, with the commission saying it had “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the agents engaged in a concerted practice to fix trading conditions for the supply of freshly produced fruits and vegetables.
In its application to the High Court, Farmers Trust argued that the warrant should not have been granted on an urgent basis and that statements contained in the commission’s affidavit constituted “inadmissible hearsay evidence”. Farmers Trust also maintained that it should have been informed about the commission’s application for the search warrant prior to issuing it.
However, the court found that the Competition Act aims to serve the greater good and that the commission must be able to investigate a complaint properly.
“It will be counterproductive if the commission is required to inform a party about the possibility of a search and seizure as it will defeat the purpose of an investigation. Under these circumstances it is justifiable that a suspected firm is not given notice of the application in terms of section 46”.