A Federal Court jury today acquitted rehabilitation aid company The Country Care Group Pty Ltd, its CEO Robert Hogan and former employee Cameron Harrison of eight cartel criminal offenses.
The charges were linked to alleged pricing and bid-rigging attempts involving the provision of assistive technology products used in rehabilitation and elderly care, such as walkers, bathroom fixtures and other similar items to help people with disabilities.
The charges, pursued by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) after an ACCC investigation, relate to offenses allegedly taking place between May 2014 and May 2016.
“After a long trial, the jury has now spoken and we respect the process and the verdicts that were handed down,” said ACCC President Rod Sims.
“We were concerned that this alleged conduct had the potential to increase the prices paid by consumers for rehabilitation and assistive technology products that are essential for the health, well-being and dignity of people with or ongoing disabilities. rehabilitation or care for the elderly. It also had the potential to increase the prices paid by governments for these essential products. “
This case is the first criminal prosecution challenged under the antitrust provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act, and the first to go to a jury trial.
“The conduct of cartels deceives consumers and other businesses and restricts healthy economic growth. The ACCC will continue to place a high priority on deterring, detecting and dismantling cartels that may harm Australian consumers and taking enforcement action where appropriate, ”said Mr. Sims.
“We will remain vigilant and take enforcement action, where appropriate, with respect to anti-competitive behavior in tendering for the supply of goods and services.”
To date, three criminal proceedings have resulted in cartels affecting Australian consumers.
In february 2018, the CDPP took legal action against Country Care and its leaders after an ACCC investigation.
After committal proceedings before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, the case was referred for trial in the Federal Court. in March 2019.
The case was originally scheduled to go to trial, first in October 2019 and then in April 2020, but has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Country Care, which is based in Mildura, provides rehabilitation and assistive technology products, such as beds and mattresses, wheelchairs and walkers, to veterans, under several government and other contracts, and directly to the general public.
It operates retail stores in Mildura, Bendigo, Sunbury and Echuca.
The ACCC investigates cartels, manages the immunity process, prosecutes civil contraventions related to cartels in Federal Court, and refers serious cartel cases to the CDPP for review.
The CDPP is responsible for prosecuting cartel-related criminal offenses in accordance with Commonwealth Prosecution Policy.
A the agreement exists when companies agree to act together instead of competing. Conduct may include price fixing, market sharing, bid rigging, and production control or limitation of the quantity of goods and services.