The Commerce Commission has begun using its powers to compel
people to give up information for its inquiry into alleged
blackmail and extortion by supermarket giant Countdown.
A commission spokesman said it had issued notices to "a
number of parties'' which required them to co-operate with
The "section 98'' notices were similar to a subpoena and
anyone who failed to comply risked a fine of up to $30,000.
The spokesman said it was common practice for a commission
investigation. He would not reveal who the notices had been
Food and Grocery Council head Katherine Rich said it appeared
the commission was casting its net widely.
"It looks like they've taken a significant sample of the
entire grocery sector.''
Ms Rich said it was a positive development because the
investigation was a highly sensitive issue and many suppliers
were reluctant to come forward.
"There is a level of fear and in terms of the Commerce
Commission's move, companies are aware that they must comply
with New Zealand law so the decision about whether or not to
supply information is made for them.
"The decision to issue these notices means once and for all
there will be a very thorough investigation.''
Labour's commerce spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, also welcomed
the commission's decision. He said evidence gained by
compulsion was likely to be more useful than information
which was volunteered.
The investigation was prompted by allegations made by
retiring Labour MP Shane Jones under parliamentary privilege.
The commission was looking at Mr Jones' claims that
Countdown's owner Progressive Enterprises had been
blackmailing suppliers into making retrospective payments to
keep products on shelves.
Progressive rejected the allegations against its business.
A Progressive spokesperson told the Herald last night that it
was co-operating with the commission investigation
"As the Commerce Commission has noted, this is a standard
part of their investigation process and it's only natural
they want to have an accurate understanding of the facts. We
welcome a fair and fact-based assessment and we'll continue
to co-operate with the commission.''