The European Commission (EC) has confirmed that its officials conducted unannounced inspections at the premises of two French grocery majors Casino Group and Intermarche on 20 May.
The commission said the move follows concerns of possible violations of EU antitrust rules, prohibiting cartels and restrictive business practices by the two grocery retail companies.
Casino said that the officials visited its Paris headquarters this week, while Intermarche confirmed the European Commission’s ongoing probe into its operations, according to a report by Reuters.
During the inspections, the officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the French competition authority.
The European Commission said: “The fact that the commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.
“The commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.
“There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate with the commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.”
Casino and Intermarche agreed to cooperate to purchase national brands in France, in 2014. The procurement cooperation agreements between the parties were reported to have been terminated last year, after Casino signed a global buying deal with French retailer Auchan.
Casino Group has been selling various store assets as part of its ongoing €1.5bn disposal plan, which includes last month’s agreement with funds managed by affiliates of Apollo Global Management, to sell 32 store properties for a total consideration of €470m ($529m).