The Portuguese Competition Authority (PCA) has decided that the Association of Chartered Accountants has unlawfully restricted competition through decisions by an association of undertakings and the abuse of a dominant position.

The PCA has ordered that the Association of Chartered Accountants (known for its Portuguese acronym OTOC, Ordem dos Técnicos Oficiais de Contas) should pay a fine of 229.3 thousand euros for practices that are harmful to competition in the market covering mandatory training for chartered accountants (known by their Portuguese acronym as TOCs, Técnicos Oficiais de Contas).

The training market for this profession was created by the OTOC, through the publication of its Regulation on Training Credits (Regulamento de Formação de Créditos) on 12 July 2007.

 
By means of this regulation, the OTOC carried out an artificial segmentation of the training market, reserving for itself the exclusive right to provide a third of the mandatory training, and it set out criteria that are neither fully clear nor transparent, relating to access for other training bodies and for approval of their activities in the field.
 
The PCA deemed that there was an infringement of article 4 on Agreements, concerted practices and decisions by associations of undertakings of the Portuguese Competition Law, since the OTOC, as an association of undertakings, took a decision with the purpose and effect of preventing, restricting or distorting competition to a significant extent.
 
The PCA also deemed to be proven that there was a violation of article 6 of the Portuguese Competition Law, relating to Abuse of a dominant position. The OTOC is the regulatory body of the profession of chartered accountants, but has been competing in a market that it had itself segmented and in which it decides on access for competitors, based on criteria that are not clearly transparent, and charging fees for access to the market and for undertaking their activities.
 
Bearing in mind that the infringements at issue are still being made, the PCA has ordered the OTOC to take the necessary actions to cease these practices and nullify their effects, within 90 days of the date when this decision was considered final. If it does not do this, the PCA will levy a fine of 500 euros for each day’s non-compliance after the period stipulated. 
 
Given the seriousness of the infringements made by the OTOC, their effects in the domestic market and in intra-community commerce, as well as the demands of general and specific prevention, the Competition Authority has ordered the OTOC to publish, within 20 days of the ruling being deemed final, in the 2nd Series of the Official Journal of the Portuguese Republic and in a daily newspaper with nationwide circulation.
 
The PCA decision was taken after an enquiry following information handed in anonymously, and then reiterated by the Portuguese Association of Accountants (known by its Portuguese acronym APOTEC, Associação Portuguesa dos Técnicos de Contabilidade).
 
An appeal against the PCA decision can be lodged at the Lisbon Court for Commerce.
 

 

Lisbon, Portugal, 18 May 2010

 

(Nº: 6/2010)

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