Members of Home Heating Oil Cartel Convicted of Price Fixing

Outcome of investigation

In a period spanning 11 years and concluding in 2012, the Director of Public Prosecutions successfully secured 18 separate convictions against 10 companies and 8 individuals. This case achieved a historic European and Irish precedent; it was the first ever jury conviction for a price fixing cartel.

Outline of Case

In June 2001, the Competition Authority received an anonymous complaint that home heating oil companies across the West of Ireland had together decided to increase their margin on the retail price of kerosene and gas oil in a price fixing agreement. Following a Competition Authority investigation, illegal cartel activity was found to have occurred between early 2001 and the first quarter of 2002.

In 2003 the Competition Authority sent its file to the Director of Public Prosecutions (‘DPP’) for decision. In 2004, the DPP initiated criminal proceedings against 24 individuals and companies charged in relation to fixing retail prices of home heating oil. All 24 cases were sent forward for trial on indictment to the Circuit Court. A nolle prosequi was entered in the case of 6 of the 24 cases. Proceedings went ahead against the other 18 cases, spanning a period from 2004 to 2012.

Two precedents were set:

  • The first Jury convictions for price fixing in Europe and Ireland.

  • In one case, DPP v Pat Hegarty, an important precedent was set following the referral of a question of law by the Circuit Court to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found that a formal conviction does not have to be recorded against the company in order to convict an employee of that company who is accused of the cartel offence. The finding that an employee can be convicted before the company has been convicted has subsequently had a wider application beyond the sphere of competition law.

Convictions

Defendant

Status

Date Sentenced

Result

Pat Hegarty

Found guilty by a jury in Galway District Court (1 May 2012)

03/05/2012

2 years in jail (suspended) and €30,000 fine

Fenmac Oil & Transport

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (21 March 2006)

21/03/2007

€7,500 fine

Corrib Oil

Guilty plea entered on 2 November 2006. Convicted on 23 January 2007.

23/01/2007

€15,000 fine

Eugene Dalton Snr

Guilty plea entered on 2 October 2006. Convicted 23 January 2007.

23/01/2007

€10,000 fine

Cloonan Oil

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (25 April 2006)

18/05/2006

€12,500 fine

Ruby Oil

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (25 April 2006)

18/05/2006

€10,000 fine

Gort Oil

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (25 April 2006)

25/04/2006

€7,500 fine

Michael McMahon

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (21 March 2006)

21/03/2006

€1,500 fine

All Star Oil

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (9 March 2006)

10/03/2006

€7,500 fine

Con Muldoon

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (28 February 2006)

10/03/2006

€1,000 fine

Hi-Way Oil

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (9 March 2006)

10/03/2006

€7,500 fine

Kevin Cunniffe

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (9 March 2006)

10/03/2006

€1,500

Matt Geraghty Oil

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (9 March 2006)

10/03/2006

€7,500 fine

Mor Oil

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (9 March 2006)

10/03/2006

€7,500 fine

Muldoon Oil

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (9 March 2006)

10/03/2006

€3,500 fine

Seán Hester

Pleaded guilty in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (9 March 2006)

10/03/2006

€1,500

JP Lambe

Pleaded guilty in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court (27 October 2005)

06/03/2006

6 months in jail (suspended) and €15,000 fine

Michael Flanagan

Found guilty by a jury in Galway Circuit Criminal Court (2 March 2006)

02/03/2006

€3,500 fine

Relevant provision

Section 4 of the Competition Act, 2002.

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