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CCPC Investigation leads to charges for fourteen people involved in School Bus Transport Cartel

AUTHORs: Kate McKenna co-author(s): Rachelle Bowden DATE: 30/06/2022

In June 2022, as reported by The Times, fourteen people were charged as part of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission ("CCPC") investigation for their alleged involvement in rigging tenders to operate school transport routes in Co. Tipperary. The CCPC had previously confirmed in February 2017 that they had started an investigation in 2016 into potential bid rigging in the procurement of publicly-funded transport services in certain parts of Munster and Leinster. This followed a detailed examination of a complaint received in relation to the matter. In 2019, following this investigation, which included a wide number of parties and multiple lines of enquiry, the CCPC referred a file to the  Director of Public Prosecutions ("DPP").

Bus Éireann operates a tendering process, using the government’s tenders portal, on behalf of the Department of Education. They hire some 4000 subcontractors, who in turn are obliged to bid, in order to operate specific rural school bus routes. This type of bid rigging in public procurement situations can be particularly harmful as it artificially increases prices and ultimately costs. It also reduces the quality of services which the State provides.

Prosecutions are rare in these types of cases because of their complexity. Although, the changes to be introduced in the new Competition (Amendment) Bill 2022, will enable the CCPC to pursue civil cases more vigorously. However, this case demonstrates the continued commitment by the CCPC to bring criminal cases, particularly against individuals, which is perhaps not surprising given that the Irish authority was a trailblazer and the first authority in Europe to win a criminal cartel prosecution in 2006.

Please see below a summary of previous CCPC criminal investigations and convictions for cartel behaviour:

  • Cartel in the procurement of flooring contracts – The cartel was in existence between 2011 and 2013 and involved major international companies in the Leinster area. This was successfully prosecuted by the DPP in 2015 resulting in the conviction at the Central Criminal Court in 2017 of Aston Carpets & Flooring and Brendan Smith, a former director of same. This conviction involved a fine payable by the company and a criminal conviction for the director and his disqualification. This was an historic case as it was the first conviction for "Bid-Rigging" in the history of the State.
  • Members of Home Heating Oil Cartel Convicted of Price Fixing – This investigation, spanning 11 years and concluding in 2012, led to the conviction of a number of home heating oil companies. There were 18 separate convictions against 10 companies and 8 individuals. This was the first ever jury conviction of a price fixing cartel.