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BlueScope Steel CEO knew of price-fixing plans, Australian regulator claims

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleged that BlueScope Steel Ltd. CEO and Managing Director Mark Vassella received regular briefings about plans of the company's former general manager of sales and marketing, Jason Ellis, to fix steel prices, The Australian reported Dec. 25.

Vassella, who was the head of the company's Australia and New Zealand operations at the time, was given details within a month of the launch of the plans and received regular reports for at least six months after that, according to the regulator.

The commission, or ACCC, kicked off civil proceedings in August in the federal court, claiming that between September 2013 and June 2014, BlueScope and Ellis tried to get various steel distributors in Australia and overseas manufacturers to enter into agreements containing a price-fixing provision.

The ACCC recently filed documents in the court alleging that Vassella was aware of the plans, but it does not claim that the CEO had a part in preparing or carrying out the price-fixing scheme, the report said.

The regulator claimed that Ellis threatened foreign steelmakers with using Australia's antidumping laws to pursue punitive duties on imported steel if they refused to raise their prices.

BlueScope filed an antidumping complaint against steelmakers from South Korea and Taiwan 12 months after Ellis made the threats, according to a separate Dec. 26 report by The Australian.

Ellis met with Taiwanese steelmakers Shang Shing and Yieh Phui in February 2014 and offered to provide pricing information for its flat steel products made in Australia to convince the companies to increase prices, according to the court documents filed by the ACCC.

In the meeting with Shang Shing, Ellis said that "if Shang Shing increased the price at which it sold flat steel products in Australia by reference to that pricing information, it would avoid antidumping measures being taken against it," the ACCC alleged, according to the report.