Agency cartel scandal – watchdog wants agent directors disqualified
The Competitions and Markets Authority has started court proceedings seeking the disqualification of two estate agency directors over a price fixing scandal.
The CMA has this afternoon announced that it has issued proceedings in the High Court of Justice, Business and Property Courts seeking the disqualification of:
– Stephen Jones, a director of Richard Worth Holdings Limited and Richard Worth Limited (in administration); and
– Neal Mackenzie, a director of Michael Hardy & Company (Wokingham) Limited, Michael Hardy & Company (Lettings) Limited and Geocharbert UK Limited.
The Richard Worth and Michael Hardy firms, together with two other estate agencies, entered into an anti-competitive agreement to fix a minimum level of commission fees for the provision of residential sales services in the Berkshire area.
Shortly before Christmas the news broke of the CMA’s fines – totalling over £605,000 – on three of the firms involved in the scandal. This followed a year-long investigation.
The CMA also revealed emails sent between people working at Michael Hardy, Prospect, Richard Worth and a branch of Romans; the discussions took place between September 2008 and May 2015 and were part of what the CMA claims were a “concerted effort” to maintain a minimum commission fee for sales in the Wokingham, Winnersh, Crowthorne, Bracknell and Warfield areas of Berkshire.
This afternoon’s announcement says the CMA issued proceedings under section 9A of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 following an investigation into the directors’ conduct in relation to the breach of competition law.
“It is now for the court to decide whether to make a disqualification order against each director” says the authority.
The CMA continues: “Provided they continue to comply with the terms of their leniency agreement, the CMA will not seek the disqualification of the co-operating directors of the two other estate agencies, which qualified for leniency under the CMA’s leniency policy.”
Under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, the CMA may seek the disqualification of an individual from holding a company directorship or performing certain roles in relation to a company for a specified period where that individual was a director of a company which has breached competition law and their conduct makes them unfit to be a director. The CMA may seek disqualification by court order or may accept a legally binding undertaking.