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US antitrust enforcement falls to slowest rate since 1970s

 |  November 29, 2018

By Kadhim Shubber, Financial Times

Criminal antitrust enforcement under Donald Trump has fallen to its slowest rate since the 1970s, according to figures compiled by the Financial Times. Fewer than 20 new cases were publicly filed by the Department of Justice in the most recent fiscal year, a level last seen in 1972, almost five decades ago.

The analysis did not include cases that may remain under seal. The slowdown in fiscal year 2018 followed a similar drop in cases filed the previous year, suggesting a prolonged lull in new indictments of criminal cartels as long-running investigations into the auto parts industry and financial services wind down. The trend has resulted in a parallel fall in the number of penalties and fines, which have declined to their lowest level since the early 2000s, according to the FT’s analysis.
Eric Meiring, a former acting chief of one of the antitrust division’s criminal units, said the number of new cases in 2018 was “surprisingly low”. He attributed the decline to the conclusion of big probes that the department had pursued for years and the “general cyclical nature of antitrust investigations”.
“It takes a while to build these things back up,” said Mr Meiring, who left the justice department this year and is now a partner at Winston & Strawn. A spokesperson for the DoJ declined to comment. The decline in criminal cases has come as progressives in the US called for tougher antitrust enforcement.
Democratic lawmakers in Congress and some media commentators have taken up the argument that the policing of competition rules has been too lax.