ARTICLE : DOCUMENTS SEIZED OR COPIED - SEARCHES OF COMPETITION - SEARCH WARRANT

Competition inquiries: Legal status of the documents seized or copied

The increasing number of antitrust dawn raids and seizures raises the question of the scope of the National Competition Authority’s and the European Commission’s rights regarding seized or copied documents. In principle, the search warrant issued by the judge constitutes the strict scope of the antitrust officers’ investigative power. To ensure compliance with this principle and with the company’s rights, some precautionary measures should be considered. While the law does not explicitly provide for the presence of a lawyer, it does not prohibit it either; nor does the law preclude the possibility for "the occupant des lieux" to appoint a representative who may be his lawyer. The lawyer’s attention will then focus particularly on: the investigative techniques used by the officers to conduct electronic seizures (massive or targeted); the documents covered by Legal Privilege; the limits imposed on the officers (right of search, multi-purpose documents); and their obligations, particularly their obligation to draw up an inventory. The European procedure does not provide for specific means of recourse against visits and seizure operations. The Court of First Instance of the European Communities has recently reiterated and clarified the fundamental principles governing the analysis of documents seized during searches. These principles should serve to guide the French authority on the permissible use of seized documents for which an appeal has been brought before the court.

1. Les enquêtes diligentées par les autorités de concurrence européenne et nationale sont de plus en plus fréquentes, qu'elles interviennent sur plainte ou sur dénonciation dans le cadre des programmes de clémence. Pour bénéficier de l'effet de surprise et éviter ainsi que des pièces nécessaires à l'établissement de la preuve des pratiques suspectées ne disparaissent, lesdites autorités ont une forte tendance à préférer les enquêtes lourdes qui leur donnent des pouvoirs plus étendus, bien qu'encadrés par les textes et la jurisprudence. 2. Ainsi, parmi les pouvoirs d'investigation, les autorités de concurrence privilégient de plus en plus les visites surprises qui sont en fait de véritables perquisitions, même si les autorités de concurrence préfèrent parler d'inspections ou d'opérations de visite et de

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Frédéric Puel, Laurent François-Martin, Competition inquiries: Legal status of the documents seized or copied, May 2008, Concurrences N° 2-2008, Art. N° 16350

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