In a significant development in the ongoing legal battle between AYO Technology Solutions Limited (“AYO”) and certain banks, the Competition Appeal Court ruled in favor of the banks, setting aside the Competition Tribunal’s Order that granted interim relief to AYO and other Applicants. The ruling came as a blow to AYO, which had alleged anticompetitive behavior by the banks in relation to the provision of banking and payment services.
Background and Legal Proceedings
The dispute began on 15 December 2021 when AYO, along with 35 others, including Sekunjalo Investment Holdings Proprietary Limited, lodged a complaint with the Competition Commission. The complaint sought an investigation into the conduct of certain banks regarding possible contraventions of sections 4, 5, and 8 of the Competition Act (Act 89 of 1998).
In response to the complaint, AYO and the other Applicants requested interim relief from the Competition Tribunal, pending the completion of the Competition Commission’s investigation. The Tribunal granted the Order on 16 September 2022, providing interim relief for a six-month period from the date of the Order or until the investigation was finalized. Later, an extension was granted, prolonging the relief period up to mid-September 2023.
Banks Appeal and Competition Appeal Court’s Ruling
Three banks, namely Standard Bank of South Africa Limited, Access Bank Limited, and Mercantile Bank (a division of Capitec Bank Limited), filed an appeal against the Competition Tribunal’s Order. They argued that the refusal to provide banking and payment services was not anticompetitive and sought to have the interim relief set aside.
The matter was heard by the Competition Appeal Court on 31 March 2023, and after months of deliberation, the Court delivered its Judgement in July 2023. The Court ruled in favor of the banks, stating that the Applicants (including AYO) failed to make a case that the banks’ actions constituted a prohibited practice under the Competition Act. As a result, the Competition Tribunal’s Order granting interim relief was set aside.
AYO’s Response and Shareholders’ Assurance
The ruling was a setback for AYO, but the company remained steadfast and proactive in addressing the situation. AYO assured its shareholders that the impact of the Competition Appeal Court’s ruling is not material to the company and its subsidiaries. The company had already implemented alternative banking facilities and third-party solutions to ensure the continuity of its businesses during the legal proceedings.
Pending Investigation and Future Updates
While the interim relief was set aside, the investigation into the original complaint with the Competition Commission remains pending. AYO’s shareholders were informed that further updates on the investigation would be provided in due course. The company remains committed to resolving the matter through appropriate legal channels and ensuring transparency with its stakeholders.
The Competition Appeal Court’s ruling has brought a new twist to the long-standing dispute between AYO Technology Solutions and the banks. The setback from the Court’s decision is expected to spur AYO’s efforts to seek redress through the ongoing investigation with the Competition Commission. As the situation evolves, shareholders and stakeholders will closely monitor developments in this case, which could have broader implications for the competition landscape in South Africa’s financial sector.