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Deputy Assistant Attorney General Manish Kumar Delivers Introductory Remarks on the Evolution of International Cartel Enforcement Coordination for the New York State Bar Association


New York, NY
United States

Thank you, Richard — it’s extremely humbling to be introduced by someone who was as talented a prosecutor and as thoughtful a leader as yourself.

The breadth in the subject matter of the panel discussions today — sustainability issues, artificial intelligence, platform technology companies and our global economy — reflects the richness and complexity of antitrust law, the discipline that many of us have chosen to specialize in. To participate in these conversations here in New York City, one of the greatest centers of trade and commerce in the world, is truly an honor. And without provoking any coastal rivalries, even though I hold a California bar card, I must acknowledge that this Antitrust Law Section puts on a terrific antitrust conference. My colleagues and I are grateful to participate in this year’s event.

But I am just an interloper. The real antitrust enforcers who call this their home turf are those from our New York Office, along with their state colleagues at the Antitrust Bureau and their sister agency counterparts at the FTC’s Northeast Regional Office. For over 90 years, Antitrust Division prosecutors at the New York Office (NYO) have brought impactful and important criminal cases to protect the integrity of our markets, and I expect the office to continue to thrive under its new leadership, headed by Chief Sean Farrell and Assistant Chiefs Dave Chu and Matt Nikic. You will hear from Matt later this afternoon on what I’m sure will be a fascinating discussion on algorithmic collusion. And I understand that several members of the NYO are here today. I encourage you to meet them and hear about the excellent enforcement work being done by the office, not to mention our colleagues at the FTC and the State AG.

Turning to this afternoon’s conversation, our panel will highlight something that is not always in public view: the active community of international enforcers that behind the scenes are in constant and regular communication with each other. That goes for my North American colleagues represented on today’s panel — Deputy Commissioner Pierre Yves Guay of the CCB and General Director of Investigations Victor Meyer of the Mexican competition authority, COFECE — colleagues with whom I personally speak with on a regular basis. As my colleague the Director of Criminal Enforcement Emma Burnham observed at last fall’s event on criminal enforcement, we are collaborating now more than ever.

This work is more critical than ever before. Right now, the Antitrust Division has over 150 grand jury investigations open across its five criminal offices. Over one third of those investigations have an international angle. This reflects the fact that globalization has led to an increase in sophisticated international cartels that threaten markets for key products and services, including our supply chain. Economic crime doesn’t confine itself neatly within borders, which is why our work requires robust, effective coordination with competition agencies across the world. For this reason, the Antitrust Division is a fortunate to have a team of full-time attorneys and staff in its International Section dedicated to supporting our collaboration efforts and achieving convergence in competition policy.

When I say that cartel conduct often crosses borders, sometimes that is literally the case. One of the more recent examples is a case awaiting trial in the Southern District of Texas against 10 individuals charged with price fixing and Section 2 criminal monopolization in the transmigrante forwarding industry, which involves transporting used vehicles and other goods across the border from the United States through Mexico for resale in Central America. As a part of the scheme, defendants allegedly participated in more traditional cartel conduct at the intersection of economic and violent crime, including threats, intimidation and acts of violence. Of course, we remain focused on the same types of corporate bad actors as in some of our more well-known international antitrust cases — such as the Marine Hose cartel — the subject of last fall’s retrospective event.

Even seemingly “domestic” efforts have an international component. Take, for example, the Antitrust Division’s work through the Procurement Collusion Strike Force, or the PCSF, led by my colleague Dan Glad. The PCSF’s mandate includes deterring, detecting and prosecuting antitrust crimes and other collusive schemes that target government spending, at all levels, wherever it occurs. Recognizing that the U.S. government buys goods and services outside its borders, we created an initiative called PCSF: Global, which created a community of enforcers focused on these threats beyond U.S. shores. Tellingly, one of PCSF: Global’s first public matters involved a scheme to carve up contracts for security services to U.S. installations in Europe. Most recently, we signaled our commitment to this effort with the appointment of New York Office Attorney Bryan Serino as Assistant Deputy Director for PCSF: Global, who will spend his time building partnerships with U.S. law enforcement minding the store abroad and with our fellow enforcers. With significant spending expected in Europe, the Middle East and beyond, we expect to have much work to do.    

Looking to my fellow co-panelists, I’d like to highlight some more recent international cooperation. As counsel to a company involved in an internal investigation, you can assume — now perhaps more than ever — that if one of us has information about a cartel that spans borders, we are sharing that information with each other, within legal and ethical parameters, of course. We are just as interested in information from a client who believes they are a victim of anticompetitive conduct.

In one recent example, after a fellow enforcer received information suggesting that collusive conduct occurred outside the United States, this enforcer was able to provide the division with evidence that allowed our prosecutors to develop probable cause for search warrants here in the United States. This all occurred outside our normal leniency channels.

We are not only coordinating on sharing information and investigative steps, but also on strategic efforts to prevent and detect anticompetitive conduct targeting substantial government spending. The 2026 Trilateral World Cup Initiative, announced in September of last year, is a commitment between the U.S. Antitrust Division and Victor and PY’s organizations to share information and conduct joint outreach related to various public works projects arising out of 2026 World Cup games. We’ll have more to say about this during the panel.

Our approach to affirmatively sharing information with our sister agencies is just one piece of the Antitrust Division’s overall strategy emphasizing early detection and proactive investigative techniques. From the inception of each investigation, our focus is on collecting evidence in a way that allows us to litigate cases efficiently and effectively down the road. While premises warrants were once the norm, we have increasingly turned to warrants for data stored in the cloud as the office has become increasingly virtual.

We are also cracking down on conspirators’ efforts to evade detection by using ephemeral messaging apps, as well as using a broader range of investigative tools to gather real-time evidence. Recently, in conjunction with our partners at the FBI, an investigative team went up on a wire, capturing recordings of individuals discussing their criminal scheme, and resulting in an indictment on antitrust and wire fraud charges in the District of Idaho. Suffice it to say we’re encouraging our prosecutors to be aggressive and creative wherever they can.

We’ve made some higher profile changes to division policy in recent years, including to our leniency policy, to ensure we’re building compelling cases for juries and that cooperators are held to their end of the bargain and to maintain incentives for companies and individuals alike to report misconduct to the division. The updates to our leniency policy mirror changes you’ll see across the division’s white-collar enforcement, including as recently as last week, when SDNY announced a pilot program designed to incentivize individual self-reporting — a policy you’ll notice closely mirrors the division’s leniency policy.

Finally, because we appreciate the value of contemporaneous evidence, we’ve been focused on building our network of law enforcement partners and augmenting it with our own in-house investigative capacity. Within the past year, we’ve hired a number of federal agents to work exclusively on Antitrust Division cases. Having the in-house capacity to follow up on intelligence, conduct initial investigative steps and interview witnesses — including cooperators and victims — increases our detection capacity across a broad range of industries. So, in addition to a visit from the FBI or one of our other law enforcement partners, cartel members may also have an opportunity to meet one of our in-house investigator colleagues who specialize in antitrust crimes.

To bring my remarks full circle, we are excited to be taking advantage of the efficiencies that come with expanding our own internal capacity, sharing this with our colleagues in other jurisdictions and learning from each other along the way, as I hope our panel discussion will make clear. 

Thank you for the opportunity to kick off this panel. Jeff, over to you.

Updated January 25, 2024