Jason Ellis (pictured), the former general manager of sales and marketing at BlueScope Steel (ASX: BSL), has entered a guilty plea to one charge of obstructing a cartel investigation today.
Ellis pleaded guilty in Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court this morning to inciting two fellow BlueScope employees to give false information and evidence to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The false evidence was given with regard to discussions Ellis and those BlueScope employees had in meetings with certain steel companies.
These matters were rolled up into one obstruction charge, as part of Ellis' guilty plea, accepted by the court today.
"This is the first time an individual has been charged with inciting the obstruction of a Commonwealth public official in relation to an ACCC investigation," ACCC chair Rod Sims said.
The matter will now proceed to sentencing and is next listed for a sentencing hearing in the Local Court on 8 December 2020.
Ellis is facing a maximum sentence of two years in jail.
Separate civil cartel proceedings filed by the ACCC against BlueScope and Mr Ellis remain before the Federal Court.
In those proceedings, the ACCC alleges that between September 2013 and June 2014, BlueScope and Ellis attempted to induce various steel distributors in Australia and overseas manufacturers to enter agreements containing a price fixing provision.
The watchdog is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties and costs against BlueScope and Ellis, as well as an order disqualifying Ellis from managing corporations.
"BlueScope acknowledges that its former employee, Mr Jason Ellis, today pleaded guilty to a criminal obstruction charge," says a BlueScope spokesperson.
"The criminal charge to which Mr Ellis pleaded guilty is completely separate from the civil cartel proceeding and occurred well after the alleged conduct that is the subject of the civil cartel proceeding. BlueScope's position in relation to the civil cartel proceeding remains unchanged.
"Based on what we know, we do not believe that BlueScope or any of our current or former employees, including Mr Ellis, engaged in cartel conduct. We will continue to strongly defend the civil cartel proceeding."
Shares in BlueScope are down 2.05 per cent to $12.43 per share at 12:02pm AEST.
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