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Former Bpost CEO on trial in US for price-fixing

Van Avermaet at Bpost. © Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga

Jean-Paul Van Avermaet, the former CEO of Belgium’s postal service Bpost, is facing committal for trial in the United States on charges of cartel forming in order to fix prices.

The allegations relate to his time at the head of security firm G4S, before he joined Bpost.

According to the evidence currently before a grand jury, Van Avermaet held a meeting in September 2019 in a Brussels hotel with two executives from competing security companies, to agree to divide up the market in security contracts among the three of them.

He then followed that up with an email in December that year asking them to list what contracts they were considering of interest in 2020. The list was divided up four days later.

The method was simple: the three would agree on who would bid for each company. That person, A, would then submit a bid, while B and C would send in bids that were outrageously inflated, to make sure that A would win.

For the next contract, A, B, and C would change places, and so on.

The practice of cartel formation is illegal in both the EU and the US, which became involved because some of the contracts were concerned with US military bases and NATO properties in Belgium.

The US investigation has progressed fasted, and is not at the grand jury stage, where members of the public are presented with the evidence and asked to decide if a trial should go forward and if so, on what charges. The grand jury deliberations are not to decide guilt or innocence, only if a trial should take place.

Unhelpfully to Van Avermaet’s defence, G4S has already pled guilty and paid a settlement of $15 million (€12.7 million). If found guilty, he could face a sentence of 10 years and a fine of $1 million.

Van Avermaet was forced to step down as CEO of Bpost in March this year after barely a year in the job. Part of the reason was the shadow of this case hanging over him; another reason was the disappointing financial results of the company.

Bpost has yet to find a successor.