Three more office fit-out company directors have been disqualified for illegal cartel behaviour, bringing the CMA’s total number to six
All three were directors of companies within the Fourfront Group at the time the illegal cartel activity took place.
Clive Lucking, founder and CEO of the Fourfront Group, has been disqualified for a period of four years and nine months. Aki Stamatis, chair of the Fourfront Group, has been disqualified for a period of two years and nine months and Sion Davies, managing director at Area Sq. Ltd has been disqualified for a period of one year and six months.
Clive Lucking contributed to 10 breaches affecting contracts with a total value of over £11.9m. Aki Stamatis contributed to one of these breaches and took no steps to avoid the other nine breaches even though he had reason to suspect or should have known about them. Sion Davies contributed to the illegal cartel behaviour by failing to prevent three breaches affecting contracts with a total value of £8.6m.
In March 2019, five companies agreed to pay fines totalling £7m after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found they had broken competition law by engaging in a form of collusive tendering known as “cover bidding”.
Typically, cover bidding involves companies, when bidding in a competitive tender for a contract, agreeing with each other that one or more of them will place a bid that is deliberately intended to lose the contract, thereby reducing the intensity of competition. This type of illegal cartel behaviour can lead to customers paying an artificially inflated price or receiving poorer quality services than if the companies had competed properly in the tender process.
Clive Lucking, Aki Stamatis and Sion Davies initially declined to give disqualification undertakings but have now done so after the CMA put them on formal notice of its intention to apply to the court for disqualification orders against them. Had they given undertakings before the CMA issued the formal notice, their periods of disqualification would not have been as long. Giving an undertaking means they agree to be disqualified from being a director of a company, or otherwise being involved in the management of any UK company, unless they have the permission of the court.
The undertakings will take effect from 7 October 2019. This allows the directors time to apply to the court for permission to carry out specified director duties. Whether or not any such application would be successful is a matter for the court, having heard representations from the directors and from the CMA. The CMA will be concerned to ensure that any permission is subject to appropriate public protection safeguards, and Fourfront and its directors are constructively engaging with the CMA to that end.
An application for permission to act is a routine feature of disqualification cases and the CMA will remain involved in this process to ensure that the public is protected.
Today’s (31 July) announcement brings the total number of director disqualifications secured for illegal cartel behaviour to 12 since December 2016, when the CMA began actively using this power.