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Law

Law

Hong Kong’s new Competition Commission head wants to jail those who flout laws

Former US Department of Justice worker Brent Snyder will pull no punches in his stance against corporate malpractices

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 10:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 10:30am

Hong Kong’s competition watchdog should seek jail sentences against offenders whenever possible in the long run, according to the new chief executive of the antitrust regulator, who is pursuing a hardline stance.

Competition Commission head Brent Snyder said he believed the most effective way to crack down on corporate malpractice is by holding individuals accountable. The former American prosecutor was spelling out his vision and plans for the coming years.

Despite its relatively short history, the commission welcomed its third chief executive in four years. Snyder succeeded Rose Webb, who earlier stepped down for family reasons.

Hong Kong antitrust regulator takes first legal action since competition law came into effect in late 2015

“I never thought I would have the opportunity to actually live here some day, and be a member of the commission,” he said as he met the press for the first time since beginning his three-year term in September.

Parachuting in from the US Department of Justice’s antitrust division, where he worked for 14 years, Snyder now finds himself under a different system in Hong Kong even though the job is of a similar nature.

“We had two hats that we wore – investigator and litigator,” Snyder said of his former job.

“I would be there on the first day of the investigation doing the investigative work, and I would be there on the last day of the case, standing in front of the jury, getting the verdict.”

He noted cases in Hong Kong were more about a team effort.

“We separate the investigative function and the legal function. The legal function is also separated between what we can do ourselves, and what requires us to use an outside counsel.”

Asked if he wished to bargain for bigger powers in the future, Snyder said he would “give it a thought” but that would not be his current focus.

Since the competition law came into effect in December 2015, the commission has brought two cases to the Competition Tribunal – an achievement which Snyder described as exceptional.

Currently anti-competitive behaviour in Hong Kong is not considered a criminal offence.

But the watchdog chief is determined. “We can’t send somebody to jail, but there are pecuniary penalties for individuals who participate in cartel violations or serious anti-competitive misconduct.”

He also did not hide his desire to seek jail sentences in the long run.

“I do believe that jail terms for individuals are the single most effective deterrent to cartel violations … Companies and corporations, they can only act through their individuals and employees.”

Looking ahead, Snyder is confident Hongkongers will appreciate the law’s existence, rather than see it as a piece of restrictive framework.

Having relocated from California, he also dismissed doubts that he would be bothered by language and cultural differences.

If anything, he joked, the biggest challenge was to navigate the low ceiling in parts of the office – which could be a headache for someone 1.93 metres tall.