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NMa imposes fine for breach of seal affixed during company inspection

The Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) has imposed a fine of €269,000 on consumer-goods company Sara Lee Household & Bodycare Netherlands for breaching seals that had been affixed to a door by NMa officials the night before. The NMa seals off rooms when an investigation that involves looking for evidence of a violation of the Dutch Competition Act has not yet been completed. Using the seals, the NMa can continue the investigation the next day without the risk of losing or damaging the evidence that is stored in the sealed-off area.

The NMa takes the breach of the seal very seriously. 'We seal off areas to continue looking for evidence the next day. If seals are broken, it is very likely that this was done with the deliberate intention to remove evidence that is relevant to our investigation,' says Pieter Kalbfleisch, chairman of the Board of the NMa. The NMa uses seals that cannot be torn apart, like paper. A distinguishing feature of the seal is that it changes color once it is removed, leaving a blue-ish residue that repeatedly makes up the word 'STOP'.

This marks the first time that the NMa imposes a fine for breaching a seal. As of October 1st, 2007, the NMa is able to impose fines by itself for such an offense, for which the undertaking involved can be fined to a maximum of €450,000 or 1 per cent of its annual turnover. The NMa is thus equipped with a deterrent for when an investigation is frustrated. In the past, incidents that involved breaching of seals had to be reported to the police.

By releasing this press release, however, the NMa does not, by any means, intend to run ahead of the outcome of an investigation into a possible violation of the Dutch Competition Act by Sara Lee.