Carter Holt hit with price fixing claims

MICHAEL FOX AND CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 16:50 20/12/2013

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The Commerce Commission has laid charges against Carter Holt Harvey and one of its senior managers over alleged price-fixing in the Auckland timber market.

The proceedings were filed in the High Court today alleging Carter Holt Harvey entered into an understanding with Fletcher Distribution Ltd to fix the prices of structural timber sold to commercial customers in Auckland.

The alleged offending occurred during the latter part of 2012 and early 2013.

"The commission has also filed proceedings against a Carter Holt Harvey manager, Mr Dean Dodds, for his involvement in the understanding," the commission said in a statement.

Carter Holt Harvey and Dodds had co-operated with the commission's investigation, "and both have now entered settlements with the commission in which they admit that their conduct breached the Commerce Act", the statement said.

Proceedings have not been filed against Fletcher Distribution Ltd, which has been granted immunity in accordance with the commission's cartel leniency policy.

"Fletcher Distribution Ltd discovered its involvement in the understanding earlier this year, made the commission aware of the situation, and co-operated with the commission's investigation."

The commission said a penalty hearing before the High Court will take place "in due course".

A leading figure in the building supplies market said the case was likely to be an isolated incident and ''not the tip of the iceberg''.

Gordon Buswell, acting chair of the Building Industry Federation and head of building supplies retailer ITM, said that the Auckland timber market was ''intensely competitive,'' and it was difficult to believe there was wide-spread price-fixing.

''I think it would be a very uunsual situation.''

ITM itself had at least 80 timber suppliers to choose from.

''When I first heard about the case, I just couldn't put it into context with my understanding of the market. There are too many alternatives.''

The commission said the alleged offending was in breach of Part 2 of the act and could carry a fine of up to $10 million or a financial penalty tied to the sale of the product. 

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- Fairfax Media

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