The European Commission (EC) slapped a €124.5 million fine on Altice for implementing a takeover of PT Portugal before receiving official clearance, although the watchdog’s decision to clear the deal still stands.
In a statement, the EC said Altice had notified it of its intentions to acquire operator PT Portugal in February 2015 and the deal was conditionally approved on 20 April 2015, subject to remedies relating to Altice’s existing businesses in the country.
However, the regulator then sent a statement of objections to Altice detailing its concerns that the company implemented the acquisition before obtaining the clearance and, in some instances, even before giving notification of the merger.
EC said Altice had breached EU Merger Regulation, after concluding certain provisions of the purchase agreement resulted in Altice acquiring the legal right to exercise “decisive influence over PT Portugal, for example by granting Altice veto rights over decisions concerning PT Portugal’s ordinary business”.
In certain cases, it added, Altice exercised decisive influence over PT Portugal’s business by giving the company instructions regarding a marketing campaign, and by seeking and receiving detailed commercially sensitive information about the company outside of the framework of a confidentiality agreement.
Despite the findings, the decision to fine Altice has no bearing on the commission’s decision to authorise the deal.
The €124.5 million fine is based on provisions in the Merger Regulation allowing the EC to impose fines of up to 10 per cent of the aggregated turnover of companies found to have breached the directive by deliberately or negligently ignoring notification or standstill obligations. These require companies not to complete mergers between the period of notifying the EC of the deal and receiving approval.
“Companies that jump the gun and implement mergers before notification or clearance undermine the effectiveness of our merger control system,” said Margrethe Vestager, EC Competition Commissioner (pictured).
Altice was also previously fined €80 million by the French Competition Authority for similar practices related to its acquisition of SFR and Virgin Mobile in 2014.
The latest fine represents another blow to Altice’s European operations, following recent struggles in France and Portugal.