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Price-fixing drink cartel file with DPP

Drink giants had 'illegal' meetings, says GAA star

SENSATIONAL allegations of a price-fixing "cartel" in the drinks industry have been made by a former Kerry football star who said he was "forced and obliged to operate unlawful agreements" and attend illegal meetings with other executives of the major drinks companies.

Kerry GAA star Tommy Doyle claimed he was threatened with bankruptcy when he blew the whistle on the clandestine meetings.

Doyle, who won seven All-Ireland medals with Kerry and was sales manager of Guinness subsidiary Deasy & Co, claimed he suffered from stress, panic attacks and psychological upset and was eventually made redundant.

Guinness Group denied these allegations and the case was settled out of court.

Doyle gave evidence to the Competition Authority as part of two major investigations into alleged illegal price-fixing among 11 beer and soft-drinks wholesalers.

The results of the investigation were forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

"It is up to the DPP to decide whether or not to initiate criminal proceedings," said a spokesman for the Competition Authority. But there have been no prosecutions to date.

Apart from systematic price-fixing in the drinks industry, Tommy Doyle also alleges that wholesalers operated a system of "sacred cows" each would have its own set of publicans, refusing tounder-cut each other to get their business.

Tommy Doyle's case against Deasy & Co and Guiness Ireland Group was settled with a confidentiality clause, and he has returned to work at Deasy's.

According to his own statment, Tommy Doyle said that his strict upbringing and his physical fitness stopped him from becoming "a very sick and very depressed man" due to the pressure of the case.

"When I came out of hospital I never thought I was so sick. I could not even run 100 yards. I have worked hard since and tried to stay 'sane'. I would also have stayed on the drink. Thank God I have straightened out my health but my 'mind' is very hard to handle, but I am staying strong and only want this case to be over and won." In his affidavit, he says he first heard about the price-fixing arrangements in February 1994. He later attended a series of meetings which he subsequently realised wereillegal. Guinness Groupdenied the allegations, and said that if such meetings occurred then it was Mr Doyle's own responsibility.

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But Mr Doyle said the meetings, which fixed prices, were held regularly. so that any problems could be ironed out. They were chaired by a special outside-appointed chairman whose rulings were binding. In his affidavit, Mr Doyle says: "Particular customers were known as 'sacred cows'. Competing drink distributors and wholesalers were assigned sacred cow lists. Each sacred cow was a pub or account which belonged to a particular wholesaler. A wholesaler agreed to go in at a particular price which had been agreed ... and if the publican oraccount requested prices from any of the other wholesalers, they would quote a higher price or same discount so that the publican would not go to one of those other wholesalers."

He said that the drinks companies would "take turns" in supplying particular lucrative accounts. According to documents filed in the High Court in Dublin, Tommy Doyle wanted the case to go ahead in March of last year, but it was adjourned because the defendant's Senior Counsel was going on a skiing holiday.

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