Business

Japan eyes flexible fines for antitrust violators that cooperate with investigators

Kyodo

The government approved a bill Tuesday that would allow for flexible fines to be handed down to antitrust violators who come forward to confess to wrongdoing, depending on the degree of their cooperation with investigations.

The legislation, which the government aims to implement by the end of 2020 after gaining Diet approval, would give the country’s antitrust watchdog more leeway in offering lenient treatment. The aim is to encourage companies to cooperate with its investigations into practices such as bid-rigging and forming cartels.

Under the bill, which would revise the antimonopoly law for the first time in six years, the government also plans to introduce an attorney-client privilege system under which companies can keep their communications with lawyers secret to make it easier for them to consult with legal experts.

This kind of system, already widely recognized in Western countries, allows suspected antitrust violators to make documents on their communications with outside lawyers confidential and even exclude them from evidence to be submitted to court.

“I’m expecting (the bill) to effectively do away with (antitrust) violations and enhance deterrence,” Mitsuhiro Miyakoshi, a minister overseeing the Fair Trade Commission, said at a news conference.

Under the current system, the first company that voluntarily admits wrongdoing to the FTC in an antitrust probe is fully exempted from fines, while the second firm gets a 50 percent reduction and the third, fourth and fifth receive 30 percent cuts uniformly.

For each case, only the first five companies that come forward are subject to such treatment.

Under the envisioned amendment, the second company would get a cut of “between 20 and 60 percent” in fines, while the third to the fifth would receive reductions of “between 10 and 50 percent.” The 100 percent exemption for the first firm to come forward would remain unchanged.

Also, the limitation on the number of companies subject to the fine reduction would be abolished, allowing as many firms as possible to confess to violations.

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