conductas-anticompetitivas

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On January 17, 2019, US District Court for the Northern District of California sentenced Daniel William Aston, owner and director of Trod Ltd., doing business as BUY 4 LESS, to six months imprisonment, after he pleaded guilty to a collusive price-fixing scheme with a competitor in the sale of wall posters on Amazon Marketplace in the US.

Mr. Aston and Buy for Less are both UK residents, but their products are sold to US consumers on Amazon Marketplace. According to the information published by the US Department of Justice (“DoJ”), between September 2013 and January 2014, Mr. Aston and other online sellers met to discuss the prices of posters sold in the US through Amazon Marketplace and agreed to raise and fix prices through algorithms that would enable them to coordinate price changes for each company.

In 2015, the DoJ asked the British Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA)” to raid the home address of Mr. Aston and the corporate offices of Buy For Less, using the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty signed by the UK and the US. The DoJ also asked Interpol to issue an arrest warrant and extradition order on Mr. Aston.

Mr. Aston and Buy For Less were prosecuted before a federal grand jury in the Northern District of California on August 27, 2015. During the proceedings, Buy For Less pleaded guilty to price fixing on August 11, 2016, in a plea deal with authorities to reduce the fine imposed, which was eventually set at USD 50,000.

However, since Mr. Aston remained in the United Kingdom and refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the US courts, the hearing was stayed until May 2018, when he was arrested in Spain while on his honeymoon.

After his arrest, Mr. Aston spent over five months in custody in Spain while his extradition to the US was being processed.

Spain eventually refused the extradition request, and Mr. Aston was released on October 25, 2018, although he was forced to remain in Spain until November 13, when he returned to the UK. Mr. Aston then decided to begin dialog with the US authorities to negotiate a parole deal. Eventually, Mr. Aston reached an agreement with the DoJ and pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence of six months, with about five months’ credit for time served during custody in Spain. Mr. Aston completed the rest of his sentence while under house arrest in the US.

In parallel to the US court case, the British CMA also carried out an investigation, which concluded in 2016 with a fine of £163,371 on the company, and Mr. Aston’s disqualification from holding directorships in the UK for five years. This was the first time that the CMA had imposed such a disqualification.

This is yet another example of the DoJ’s firm resolve to prosecute foreign nationals for violations of the Sherman Act. The case also showcases the DoJ’s multiple mechanisms for acting beyond its borders, such as legal cooperation instruments signed with third-party countries for raids outside the US, arrest warrants through Interpol, and even the extradition of foreign nationals involved in investigations. In fact, as we explained here, the Court of Justice of the European Union recently approved the extradition of an Italian citizen from Germany to the US for participating in a cartel. The individual was eventually sentenced to two years in a US prison.

 

Alexandre Picón and Marta Simón

 

 

 

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alexandre.picon@cuatrecasas.com

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marta.simon@cuatrecasas.com

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