Antitrust: Commission opens formal proceedings against sanofi-aventis for possible procedural infringement

Antitrust: Commission opens formal proceedings against sanofi-aventis for possible procedural infringement

The European Commission has opened a formal investigation under EC Treaty antitrust procedural rules into whether sanofi-aventis SA obstructed illegally an inspection of its premises in January 2008. The proceedings centre on sanofi-aventis' refusal to let inspectors examine and copy relevant documents until the French authorities produced a national search warrant. The inspection formed part of the competition inquiry on the pharmaceutical sector (see IP/08/49 and MEMO/08/20).

An initiation of proceedings does not imply that the Commission has proof of an infringement.

Between 15 and 18 January 2008, Commission officials, accompanied by officials from the French competition authority, inspected sanofi-aventis headquarters in France. In the course of the inspection, the Commission officials identified certain documents which were relevant for the Commission's competition sector inquiry. However, sanofi-aventis SA refused to let the Commission officials examine and take a copy of the documents unless the French authorities produced a national search warrant, which was subsequently produced. Regulation 1/2003 on the implementation of the EC Treaty competition rules empowers the Commission to search companies' records and to take copies of documents during unannounced on site inspections. In turn, companies have an obligation to comply with Commission inspection decisions and to cooperate with inspectors, notably by presenting documents identified during the inspection and allowing Commission officials to take copies.

There is no strict deadline to complete antitrust inquiries. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.

What is the legal base for the decision?

The legal base of this procedural step is Article 23(1) in conjunction with 20 (2) of Council Regulation No 1/2003 (concerning respectively the obligations of companies to cooperate with a Commission inspection and the Commission's powers to undertake unannounced on-site inspections).

The Commission may make public the initiation of proceedings in any appropriate way. Before doing so, it informs the parties concerned. The competition authorities of the Member States concerned have also been informed.

The company's rights of defence will be fully respected.