NZ judge rules against anti-cartel commission

A NEW Zealand judge has ruled that the country’s anti-cartel Commerce Commission abused rules by preventing Air New Zealand from questioning employees the commission had interviewed.The 13 current or former Air New Zealand employees were questioned as part of the commission’s investigation into an alleged airfreight fuel surcharge cartel operating between 1998 and 2006.Justice Pamela Andrews ruled that the gagging unfairly disadvantaged Air New Zealand’s own preparation for the ensuing court case.“The orders allow the commission to enjoy a significant advantage over Air New Zealand and the executives which would not be available to an ordinary litigant.”Air New Zealand’s general counsel, John Blair, slammed the commission’s gagging, saying: “Such tactics by a regulator have no place in the fair administration of justice.”The ruling is seen as an important test of the commission’s investigative powers, which it had been flexing under the leadership of its former head, Paula Rebstock. In Australia, the commission’s counterpart, the ACCC, can tap phones and put electronic tracers on vehicles as part of its investigations.Blair added: “If you are looking at giving the commission more significant enforcement powers then you’d have to question the wisdom of doing that”.

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