Picture: BLOOMBERG
Picture: BLOOMBERG

Caxton’s effort to have a R1m fine imposed on Naspers-owned newspaper Natal Witness hiked to R40m was rejected the Competition Tribunal.

Naspers, however, will have to pay its own legal costs.

"Ordinarily we may have awarded costs against Caxton. However, without its persistence however self-serving, this merger would not have been notified nor would Caxton’s enforcement of the failure to notify have been enforced," the tribunal said in its ruling released on Monday.

The dispute relates to the Natal Witness acquiring the proprietor of isiZulu newspaper Ilanga, Mandla-Matla, in November 2000 without notifying the competition authorities.

Caxton brought this deal to the competition authorities’ attention in 2012 when Naspers, via Media24, bought the half of Natal Witness it did not already own.

Under the settlement agreement suggested by the commission and accepted by the tribunal, the R1m fine is split 80% to Natal Witness and 20% to Mandla-Matla.

"Caxton does not quibble with the settlement with Mandla-Matla. It was the junior partner in the arrangements and is a small publishing business," the tribunal’s ruling said.

"The settlement with Natal Witness is the one subject to attack. Here, Caxton suggests a penalty of R40m imposed, but subject to a suspended sentence of R20m, payable immediately with the remaining R20m payable if any firm in the Naspers group contravenes the Act again by failing to notify a merger within the next five years."

The tribunal said there was insufficient evidence of Caxton’s view that the R800,000 fine it gave Natal Witness was not high enough to "induce a sense of shock".

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