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Canned tuna giant StarKist was ordered Wednesday to pay a $100 million fine for its role in a price-fixing scheme for merchandise sold in the United States.
A federal judge in San Francisco also sentenced the company to 13 months’ probation, according to a Justice Department news release.
“Today’s result demonstrates our commitment to enforcing the antitrust laws aggressively against companies that fix prices,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “Hard-working Americans deserve the benefits of open competition when they spend their hard-earned money on items that stock kitchen shelves.
FORMER STARKIST TUNA EXEC PLEADS GUILTY TO PRICE FIXING
The fine brings an end to StarKist’s involvement in the DOJ’s investigation and resolves all outstanding criminal antitrust issues, the company said in a statement. “We will continue to conduct our business with the utmost transparency and integrity.”
StarKist pleaded guilty last year to felony price fixing as part of a conspiracy that included rival tuna companies Bumble Bee Foods and Chicken of the Sea. Federal prosecutors alleged StarKist conspired with others to fix canned tuna prices from November 2011 to December 2013.
“We have cooperated with the DOJ during the course of its investigation and accept responsibility,” said Andrew Choe, StarKist president and CEO.
The company, which is owned by South Korean company Dongwon Industries, had asked U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen to reduce the fine to $50 million, arguing the penalty could result in bankruptcy since it faces other civil damages. Chen said he found the company had assets and the ability to borrow money to pay up.
The scheme was revealed when Chicken of the Sea unsuccessfully attempted to purchase San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods in 2015. Chicken of the Sea executives alerted federal authorities and agreed to cooperate in exchange for avoiding criminal prosecution.
Bumble Bee pleaded guilty to the same charge as StarKist in 2017 and paid a $25 million fine.
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Two former executives of Bumble Bee and one from StarKist have also each pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges. None of them have been sentenced.
Former Bumble Bee chief executive Christopher Lischewski has pleaded not guilty to a price-fixing charge.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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