The U.S. Senate passed legislation yesterday extending the Antitrust Criminal Penalties Enforcement and Reform Act of 2004 by 10 years.
The law provides for a leniency program that gives cartel members or price-fixers an incentive to come forward and self-report their violations. The program offers possible amnesty to the first member of an antitrust conspiracy that admits its conduct and fully cooperates with investigators.
"This 10-year extension will offer the Department of Justice Antitrust Division the resources and authority necessary to protect consumers from price-fixing cartels,” Sen. Herb Kohl (D – Wis.), chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee, said in a statement. “The program has proven successful in uncovering and punishing price-fixing crimes, and it is my hope that this extension will usher in another decade of detection and prosecution.”
Since the law was passed in 2004, the Antitrust Division has uncovered numerous cartel cases through its leniency program, including an investigation into price fixing on international air cargo rates and passenger fuels surcharges. That case so far has yielded over a billion dollars in criminal fines.
Another major case involves price fixing of TFT-LCD flat panels, which are used in television sets and computer monitors. That case has yielded more than $800 million in fines since 2008.
In FY2004, before the passage of the law, criminal antitrust fines totaled only $350 million.
The law also limits the civil liability of leniency participants to the actual damages caused by that company rather than triple the damages caused by the entire conspiracy, which is typical in civil antitrust lawsuits.
According to Kohl’s office, the law “makes it more likely that criminal antitrust violations will be reported and, as a result, consumers will be able to identify and recover their losses from paying illegally inflated prices. The policy also requires participants to cooperate with plaintiffs in any follow-on civil lawsuits.”
The Senate approved the House version of the bill, which was passed and sent to the Senate on Monday. The law was due to expire in June.