OFT to offer £100,000 to whistleblowers

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The Independent Online

Whistleblowers will be offered up to £100,000 to come forward with information leading to the break-up of price-fixing rings and other cartels.

The announcement from the Office for Fair Trading (OFT) comes soon after the news that HM Revenue and Customs paid an informant £100,000 for bank details of wealthy Brit-ish citizens who had been evad-ing tax through accounts in Liechtenstein.

The OFT says its scheme will run for an initial period of 18 months, "after which a decision will be made whether this should be a permanent arrangement". Rewards will be paid where it "proves useful in the OFT's anti-cartel enforcement work, and will be calculated according to a set formula and not subject to negotiation".

Simon Williams, the OFT's senior director of cartels and criminal enforcement, said: "We believe that it is in the public interest to offer financial incentives in the hope that it will encourage more people who have good information about the existence of hard-core cartel activity to come forward."

Cartels are prohibited under the Competition Act, with a penalty for firms found guilty of the abuse of up to 10 per cent of turnover. Individuals are subject to a sentence of up to five years imprisonment and an unlimited fine. Usually, larger concerns find themselves in the spotlight for OFT investigations. Virgin escaped punishment last year for volunteering information on price collusion with British Airways, for example. Current OFT investigations concern the construction trade and dairy produce.

Mr Williams said: "Cartels are not the preserve of big business. For example, if a local authority needs to find a contractor to refurbish its schools, it is unacceptable for local contractors to seek to rig the tender process by colluding on price." The OFT's whistleblowing hotline is 0800 085 1664, or email cartelshotline@oft.gsi.gov.uk.