Jason Ellis, a former general manager of sales and marketing at BlueScope Steel Limited (BlueScope), was sentenced to eight months imprisonment, for inciting the obstruction of an ACCC investigation into alleged price fixing by BlueScope.
Late yesterday, Magistrate Atkinson ordered that Mr Ellis be released, without entering custody, upon entering into a recognizance in the sum of $1,000, on the condition that he be of good behaviour for two years. Magistrate Atkinson also ordered that Mr Ellis pay a fine of $10,000.
In imposing sentence, Magistrate Atkinson emphasised the seriousness of Mr Ellis’s conduct, and said: “in all dealings [with the ACCC] a person needs to allow investigations to run properly, without any attempt to hinder investigations by officials”.
“This is the first time an individual had been charged with, and convicted of, inciting the obstruction of an ACCC investigation,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.
Mr Ellis incited two fellow BlueScope employees to give false information and evidence to the ACCC regarding discussions he and those BlueScope employees had during their meetings with certain other steel companies.
The ACCC was investigating allegations that, between September 2013 and June 2014, BlueScope and Mr Ellis attempted to induce various steel distributors in Australia and overseas manufacturers to enter arrangements containing a price fixing provision.
The ACCC has since filed separate civil cartel proceedings against BlueScope and Mr Ellis, which remain before the Federal Court.
“Mr Ellis’ attempts to stop us from doing our job, from investigating and prosecuting behaviour we believe breaches competition laws, did not deter us. Not only did we continue our investigation and take legal action against Blue Scope and Mr Ellis for alleged cartel behaviour despite his efforts to obstruct us, we also referred the obstruction conduct to the CDPP to consider prosecuting Mr Ellis,” Mr Sims said.
“We take any attempts to prevent the ACCC from obtaining full and truthful accounts of conduct under investigation extremely seriously and won’t hesitate to prosecute any similar cases in the future.”
“The conviction and sentence reflect the seriousness of this conduct and should send a strong message to anyone contemplating obstructing or inciting someone else to obstruct ACCC officers in the course of our investigations,” Mr Sims said.
Inciting the obstruction of a Commonwealth official in the performance of their functions is a criminal offence under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, and carries a maximum jail sentence of two years. On a guilty plea in the Local Court, the maximum jail sentence is one year.
The ACCC investigates cartel conduct, manages the immunity process, takes proceedings in the Federal Court in respect of civil cartel contraventions, and refers serious cartel conduct and, where appropriate, other conduct which may amount to obstruction of justice offences to the CDPP for consideration for prosecution.
The CDPP is responsible for prosecuting criminal offences in accordance with the Prosecution Policy of the Commonwealth.