"This is the first time an individual has been charged with inciting the obstruction of a Commonwealth official in relation to an ACCC investigation," says ACCC chair Rod Sims.
While the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) has decided not to pursue criminal cartel proceedings against BlueScope Steel (ASX: BSL), it has made unprecedented charges against Jason Ellis, the group's former general manager of sales and marketing.
Ellis (pictured) has been charged with two counts of inciting the obstruction of a Commonwealth official and he is expected to face the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney on 5 November.
If found guilty he will face a two-year jail term.
The charges relate to actions allegedly taken by Ellis during an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigation into alleged price fixing by the steel manufacturer.
"These obstruction allegations are very serious. This is the first time an individual has been charged with inciting the obstruction of a Commonwealth official in relation to an ACCC investigation" says ACCC chair Rod Sims.
These allegations are the subject of separate civil cartel proceedings filed by the ACCC against BlueScope and Ellis which remain before the Federal Court, but the CDPP won't be taking action against either BlueScope or Ellis over that issue.
In those proceedings, the ACCC alleges BlueScope and Ellis attempted to induce steel distributors in Australia and overseas to sign agreements with price fixing provisions included.
The watchdog is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties and costs against BlueScope and Ellis, as well as an order disqualifying Ellis from managing corporations.
BlueScope informed the ASX of the update today, noting civil proceedings were ongoing and it would not be appropriate to comment further.
"Since becoming aware of the ACCC's investigation, we have constructively engaged with the ACCC and conducted our own internal investigation," BlueScope chairman John Bevan said after the ACCC commenced criminal proceedings in August.
"While we have not seen all of the information relied upon by the ACCC, based on what we know today, we do not believe that BlueScope, or any current or former employees, have engaged in cartel conduct."
Business News Australia