European Commission accuses Slovak state rail carrier of obstructing inspection

Back in 2016, the ZSSK railway company allegedly marred an inspection, and thus the EC has sent a statement of objections now. ZSSK denies any fault.

Illustrative stock photoIllustrative stock photo (Source: Sme - Jan Krošlák)

The European Commission (EC) in its preliminary view has accused the passenger rail carrier ZSSK Slovensko of preventing the European-Union authority from inspecting it in June 2016, europa.eu website reported on September 25.

The EC has sent a statement of objections to ZSSK, claiming that the rail carrier provided the EU body with incorrect information and erased data from a laptop.

“Companies have the obligation to provide correct information when we investigate as well as during inspections,” EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who is in charge of competition policy, told the TASR newswire. “They should not alter the requested data in any way. Such behaviour would threaten the integrity and effectiveness of our investigations. We want to make sure that companies comply with our rules.”

What is behind the inspection?

The inspection at ZSSK was part of an anti-trust inquiry in the rail passenger transport sector. According to the EC press release, the inspection was carried out in June 2016. The Commission suspected that ZSSK may have concluded anti-competitive agreements aimed at shutting out competing rail passenger transport operators from the market, which is in breach of EU anti-trust rules.

The EC came to the preliminary conclusion that this ZSSK’s behaviour may have been in conflict with its duty to oblige, according to the European Council’s Regulation No 1/2003 on executing the rules of economic competition.

ZSSK’s reaction

The state passenger rail carrier has been surprised by the EC’s preliminary stance, as ZSSK did not prevent any execution of the inspection – quite the contrary, it was fully cooperating, the Sme daily wrote.

This case involves the notebook of a former member of the ZSSK board who, by the time when Commission asked for it, was not anymore owned by ZSSK; but instead bought from it by the ex-manager. Otherwise, the ZSSK obliged all demands of the EC without any delay, bringing all required documents and device, including dozens of notebooks, mobile phones and enabling access to all offices.

The man involved ceased to be a member of the ZSSK Board on June 17, 2016, dismissed from the position of section manager by June 21, 2016, approved to buy the mobile phone and notebook from the company on June 23, while the previously unannounced EC inspection started on June 28, 2016, according to Sme.

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