Shares in cement company CRH are likely to come under pressure today after the company confirmed its premises had been raided by the country’s competition watchdog
CRH, valued at €20bn, confirmed premises in Platin, Co Meath owned by its subsidiary Irish Cement were searched by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
“Irish Cement fully facilitated the inspection and is continuing to co-operate with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. Inspections regarding competition policies, procedures and practices are an accepted part of the business environment around the world.
“Irish Cement operates to the highest business standards across all elements of its operations and is confident that it has no issue in relation to competitive practice,” the company said.
The commission also confirmed it conducted searches with the assistance of the gardaí at a number of premises in the bagged cement sector last Thursday but declined to comment on the firms involved.
According to reports over the weekend, officials seized thousands of documents. The raids are the start of an investigation into anti-competitive practices in the Irish cement industry, the Sunday Business Post report added.
The search of offices of Irish Cement could be highly significant for the construction industry here.
The commission indicated that the searches conducted last week also included raids on cement retail outlets. It says its investigation is at an early stage, but the raids are nonetheless part of a wider investigation. It also marks the most high-profile investigation conducted by the new commission since it was created late last year from the merger of the old Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency.
The cement industry around the world is no stranger to investigations by national competition authorities into allegations of price fixing. Italian, Spanish and Turkish authorities have in the last year investigated a number of cement firms in their markets.
Since late 2010, the EU has been conducting a major probe into price fixing allegations involving up to eight cement makers.
The commission only last year successfully fought off a legal challenge when a European court ruled against actions taken by some of the cement firms under investigation who had questioned its right to seize certain documents. CRH subsidiaries have not been part of that EU probe. But CRH subsidiaries in Poland and Switzerland in recent years have been investigated.
Earlier this month, CRH said it will continue to dispute initial findings made last year by Switzerland’s competition commission that the group’s subsidiaries breached competition law and that it should pay fines of €98m.
In Ireland, Irish Cement has long been the subject of long-held claims by Seamus Maye, a Sligo businessman, that his family firm was driven out of business in the 1990s by anti-competitive practices. CRH has rejected the allegations. It had the claims thrown out by the High Court in 2012.
The investigation also comes at a sensitive time for CRH as it eyes major acquisition opportunities. The building materials and cement giant has set aside billions of euro to buy assets forced on the mega-merger plans of European cement titans Holcim and Lafarge.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved