Danny McCance 3 Apr 2019 10:58am

ACCC drops Big Four “cartel” probe

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has stated that it will close its probe into anti-competitive behaviour among the Big Four

In February, the watchdog requested information from Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC as an initial step to see if a formal investigation was warranted, following allegations of “cartel-like behaviour”.

The probe was looking for evidence that the firms had coordinated on pricing, charging methods or decisions regarding bidding on government contracts.

Rod Sims, chairman of the ACCC, stated in a letter this week that the authority had not found sufficient evidence to proceed with its investigation, the Australian Financial Review reported.

“On the information before it, the ACCC has not found evidence that provides a basis to take further investigative action with respect to the allegations at this time,” Sims wrote in his letter to Julian Hill and Andrew Leigh, the Labour MPs responsible for initiating the parliamentary probe.

“As you are aware, such evidence is necessary to put matters before court,” he continued.

An ACCC spokesperson confirmed these statements.

Sims also noted that the ACCC had recently established the Financial Services Competition Branch, aimed at investigating anti-competitive conduct across the sector.

Meanwhile in the UK, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee yesterday released its report following its review into the UK audit market, which recommended splitting up the Big Four.

 In response, Hill said that it was "somewhat ironic that the ACCC’s letter came on the same day that the UK Parliament is expanding its investigation".

Although he said that that he accepted the ACCC had not found enough evidence of cartel like behaviour, he still remained "concerned about the conflict inherent in the business model now of the Big Four globally, between financial statement auditing and lucrative consulting, and believe this warrants greater scrutiny by legislators and regulators around the world".

A Deloitte spokesperson said that the firm is aware of the ACCC’s decision.

“Deloitte takes very seriously its competition law obligations and will continue to conduct itself in compliance with those laws,” they said.

EY and PwC declined to comment.

KPMG has been contacted for comment.