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    Cartel crack-down team strengthened The Office of Fair Trading will [today] announce a reorganisation of its competition division in preparation for its key role in enforcing tough new legislation banning cartels and abuse of market dominance. The changes are intended to strengthen the OFT’s investigation and administrative capacity before the implementation in March [2000] of the 1998 Competition Act, which allows the OFT to fine companies up to 30 per cent of UK turnover. The revamped division will be lead by Margaret Bloom, the current director of competition policy, confirming her as the most important enforcer after Mr. John Bridgeman, director general of fair trading.  Mrs. Bloom has been given approval to hire an extra 60 staff, giving her about 180 people to enforce the new rules. About 50 of the extra staff are expected to be in place by January [2000]. The most important change is the creation of a cartels investigation branch. Until now, cartels have been dealt with by a broadly based restrictive trade practices branch. The cartels branch will be headed by Adrian Walker-Smith, a senior OFT official who advised the colonial government of Hong Kong on competition policy before the colony was handed over to Chinese rule. Under the new act, the branch will be able to launch investigation into alleged price-fixing, including searching premises and seizing documents. Executives who obstruct investigators can be fined or jailed. The competition division will have six other branches, of which four will have responsibilities for policing a range of sectors. Gisela Davis, a senior civil servant and former OFT and City lawyer, will head the branch covering media, telecoms, postal services, music publishing, information industries, consumer electronics, sport, leisure, entertainment and gambling. Steven Wood, a senior OFT official, will lead the branch for financial and professional services, personal and business services, investment business, financial markets, transport, travel and trade. Alan Williams, a Treasury official seconded to the Competition Commission will manage construction, timber, paper, glass, steel, chemical and rubber industries, energy, water, packaging, engineering and motor industries. Donald Mason, deputy head of the OFT’s mergers branch will be responsible for agricultural products, food, beer, pharmaceuticals, textiles and consumer goods. Two branches will have broad cross-sectoral responsibilities. These are policy – headed by Edward Whitehorn, a senior official enforcing the existing Fair Trading Act – and mergers – led by Andrews White, the top merger official under the existing system.

     

    “Financial Times”