In its enforcement of U.S. criminal antitrust laws, the Department of Justice has long focused on price-fixing, bid-rigging, and market allocation as “hard-core violations.” Since 2019, however, the Justice Department has intensified that focus with regard to federal procurement, through its creation of the Procurement Collusion Strike Force (PCSF). The Department has described the PCSF as “a joint law enforcement effort to combat antitrust crimes and related fraudulent schemes that impact government procurement, grant, and program funding at all levels of government – federal, state and local.” Last year, the Department expanded the ambit of the PCSF’s responsibilities with the creation of “PCSF: Global”, which it states is “designed to deter, detect investigate and prosecute collusive schemes that target government spending outside of the United States.”
On June 25, the Department announced, as the PCSF’s first international resolution, that a Belgian security-services firm, G4S Secure Solutions NV (G4S), had agreed to plead guilty for its role “in a conspiracy to rig bids, allocate customers, and fix prices for defense-related security services, including a multimillion-dollar contract issued in 2020 to provide security services to the U.S. Department of Defense for military bases and installations in Belgium.” In a criminal information that it filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the Department alleged that G4S had violated section 1 of the Sherman Act, which prohibits conspiracies in restraint of trade, by participating in a conspiracy between 2019 and 2020 with unspecified co-conspirators
to allocate security services contracts in Belgium among themselves and to determine the prices at which contracts would be bid. The contracts affected by the conspiracy include those for the U.S. Department of Defense and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Communications and Information Agency, which is funded in part by the United States.
As part of a plea agreement with the Justice Department, G4S agreed to plead guilty to the information and to pay a $15 million criminal fine. While the plea agreement is subject to court approval, the Department stated that “began cooperating with the United States in April 2020 and will continue to cooperate in the ongoing investigation.”
Observers of federal procurement law and policy should expect, that based on longstanding practice of the Department’s Antitrust Division in its criminal investigations, the Department will announce additional criminal resolutions with other firms that participated in the alleged conspiracy with G4S. There is no set timetable for such resolutions, and the dates of the alleged conspiracy are quite recent. No one should be surprised, therefore, if the Department does not announce additional plea agreements with other security firms for several months, if not a year or more.