The Supreme confirms a fine of 6.8 million to DIA supermarkets for pressuring suppliers and manufacturers

The Supreme Court has decided to uphold a 6.8 million fine euros for the DIA supermarket chain for 86 food procurement violations. The judges endorse the sanction imposed by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2017 on the supermarket chain and declare it proven that it exchanged sensitive information from suppliers and manufacturers, demanded additional payments that were not in the contracts and, finally, made modifications to some contracts that were not had been expressly agreed upon by the parties. There are almost a hundred violations of the 2013 Law that regulates the operation of the food chain.

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The alarms about these abusive practices of DIA, a company listed on the stock market for a decade, jumped in 2016 in the Food Information and Control Agency of the Ministry of Agriculture. On the one hand, this autonomous body of the ministry detected 44 infractions committed after the collaboration agreement between DIA and Eroski in 2015: the supermarket chain, in order to increase its competitiveness, provided sensitive commercial information on suppliers and manufacturers to the consulting firm Accenture and the office of attorneys Clifford Chance. They did it before holding meetings, to check the viability of the agreement, and without the consent of the affected companies.

The Supreme admitted the DIA appeal for processing and explained that the objective was to rule on these 44 infractions. The judges endorse the prior resolution of the National High Court that confirmed the sanction in June 2020 and explain that it is not illegal to hire a consultant to check the viability of an agreement like the one they were going to undertake with Eroski - broken in 2018 - but they add that disclosing sensitive information in the process is prohibited. "The disclosure of the aforementioned sensitive information is prohibited, even if the recipient of that supply of information is a consultant or a lawyer," the magistrates recall. "What the law prohibits is that, without the consent of the subjects of the food contract who are affected, the strict scope of confidentiality -delimited by law- in which this sensitive information must remain is exceeded," settles the sentence on these 44 sanctions at a rate of 80,000 euros each.

Another 32 sanctions have to do with demanding more money than was agreed in the contracts. Some payments that, as the National Court declared proven a year and a half ago, were close to 29 million euros without adding those required from various manufacturers. Some of them, in their statements during the investigation of the case, explained that "the explanation for the payments was the differences they had found in the conditions plus the increase due to the merger." DIA, therefore, demanded more money from its suppliers and manufacturers and, in some cases, those affected showed, according to the judges, that these requests "were not made in the normal terms of a negotiation between parties (...) but that said requests they were formulated in an imperative way and this is recognized by the practical majority of manufacturers".

The third block of sanctions, a total of 9, have to do with modifications in the contracts that had not been agreed with the other party. Specifically, with regard to each of the suppliers, DIA undertook the "de-referencing" of products, bypassing the contract and stopped distributing different foods that were included in the contract. Everything, according to the National High Court, was "their demands were accompanied by pressure and blockade measures, to obtain the signing of the agreement with both companies." In the case of some supplier, the conditions of the contract were altered and in another case, for example, DIA stopped buying 20% ​​of the products.

The ruling of the Supreme Court confirms all these sanctions and forces the DIA supermarket chain to face the fine of 6.8 million euros. This is not the only legal front open for these stores: through criminal channels, the National Court is investigating whether the chain's former management leadership committed irregularities in the accounts of 2016 and 2017, after abusive practices against suppliers and manufacturers by the which has just been sanctioned. The criminal chamber recently decided to return the case to the investigating judge, understanding that the investigated accounting maneuvers do not have to be the only cause of the collapse of the shares of this company, as reported by The country.


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