HONG KONG (Reuters) – Antitrust penalties rose to a record in Asia last year as watchdogs got tough on cartels and bid-rigging, emboldened by maturing competition laws across the region and growing government clampdowns on corruption.
Some $1.7 billion in penalties and fines were levied, up 47 per cent from 2013, and 45 per cent higher than the annual average for the previous five years, data compiled by Norton Rose Fulbright shows. The London-headquartered law firm monitors the rulings of competition regulators and courts in Asia.
The jump was largely driven by Japan and South Korea, Asia’s most aggressive antitrust regimes during the past five years, while younger watchdogs in Indonesia, Malaysia and China progressively stepped up enforcement activity.
The steady rise in penalties reflects the increasing maturity of antitrust regimes in the region, many of which are only a few years old. The preponderance of penalties for bid-rigging, which accounted for 56 per cent of the 2014 total value of fines, reflects the way watchdogs are more and more using competition law to fight graft, especially for infrastructure projects.
“This is a distinguishing feature of competition law enforcement in many Asian countries, where authorities rely on competition law to take action against private and public corruption,” said Marc Waha, a partner in the Asia antitrust practice at Norton Rose Fulbright in Hong Kong. “The exception is China, where competition authorities have yet to investigate and sanction bid-rigging activity.”