Cartel sentencings a milestone, ACCC says

·2-min read

The consumer watchdog is celebrating a landmark win after four individuals were sentenced for their role in a price-fixing cartel between two money transfer firms.

Vina Money and Hong Vina operated competing branches in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray as well as Cabramatta in Sydney. The firms agreed on exchange rates instead of competing with each other for more than four years.

In June, Federal Court Justice Wendy Abraham fined Vina Money $1 million. Former Vina Money directors Van Ngoc Le and Tony Le and Hong Vina ex-director Khai Van Tran and ex-shareholder Thi Huong Nguyen were also sentenced after pleading guilty.

A fifth individual, 33-year old Jamie Le, pleaded not guilty. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions withdrew his charge on Thursday.

Commenting on the outcome for the first time on Thursday, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said it was the first time individuals had been sentenced for a criminal cartel offence since cartel conduct was criminalised in 2009.

"It is a significant milestone that follows a joint investigation between the ACCC and the Australian Federal Police and a successful prosecution by the CDPP," she said in a statement.

Van Ngoc Lee was sentenced to two years, six months, Tony Le to nine months, Khai Van Tran to one year and seven months, and Thi Huong Nguyen to two years and four months.

All four were immediately released on recognisance orders without spending time behind bars on the condition they remain on good behaviour.

Under the cartel, Vina Money and Hong Vina fixed the price of the Australian dollar/Vietnamese dong exchange rate as well as the transaction fees charged to those sending money to Vietnam.

The criminal conduct took place from January 2012 to August 2016.

Evidence shown to the court included emails between the two firms and the Vietnam-based Sacombank which encouraged both Vina Money and Hong Vina to agree on their exchange rates.

"Cartel behaviour, including price fixing, means consumers pay more than they would if there was fair competition, and other businesses are deprived of a level playing field," said Ms Cass-Gottlieb.

Corporations face fines of at least $10 million for cartel conduct. Convicted individuals can face jail times up of up to 10 years and fines of up to $440,000.