Jason Ellis, former general manager of sales and marketing for BlueScope Steel, a leading Australian steel manufacturer, has been charged with two counts of attempting to obstruct the inquiry of a Commonwealth official. Ellis is said to have worked behind the scenes to obstruct a probe by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into an alleged price fixing scheme by BlueScope.
If convicted, Ellis faces two years in jail.
“These obstruction allegations are very serious,” ACCC chair Rod Sims stated, according to Business News Australia. “This is the first time an individual has been charged with inciting the obstruction of a Commonwealth official in relation to an ACCC investigation.”
On the other hand, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has opted not to pursue a criminal case against BlueScope as part of the price fixing alleged by the ACCC. The conspiracy supposedly involved efforts to persuade steel distributors in Australia and beyond to enter into agreements that had price fixing clauses attached.
BlueScope has of course denied any wrongdoing, both on the part of the company in general and Ellis specifically, though it conceded it does not know how much information (i.e. evidence) the ACCC is working with.
“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 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.”
BlueScope was founded in 2002 and has its headquarters in Melbourne. Its major manufactures are steel plate, steel slab, galvanised steel, hot rolled coil, automotive steel and corrugated galvanised iron. It currently employs approximately 16,000 workers.