UNITED STATES: StarKist Co., a subsidiary of South Korea’s Dongwon Group, has agreed to plead guilty for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices of packaged seafood sold in the United States, according to the Department of Justice.
The company faces a potential fine of USD 100 million in connection with an agreement to fix canned tuna prices that ran from at least late 2011 to late 2013.
A former StarKist executive and two former Bumble Bee Foods executives had pleaded guilty to price fixing but former StarKist CEO Chris Lischewski pleaded not guilty to the same charges.
Lischewski stepped down in May after he was indicted for price-fixing, and could face up to 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors alleged Lischewski "knowingly joined and participated" the conspiracy and held meetings and exchanged information on pricing data, sales, supply, demand and production with other unnamed co-conspirators.
StarKist's plea comes amid a government investigation of the canned tuna industry that's been ongoing since at least 2015. StarKist and Bumble Bee, along with Chicken of the Sea are accused of conspiring to fix prices. Altogether, the brands control around 80 per cent of the US canned tuna market.
Last year, Bumble Bee plead guilty to conspiring to fix US prices between 2011 and 2013, and paid a USD 25 million fine. A week after Bumble Bee's plea, Walmart alleged in a lawsuit that the company was part of a conspiracy with the two other tuna canning companies.
Walmart's attorneys cited email, industry conferences and phone calls in their case against the companies, according to The Washington Post.
"Despite changes in supply and demand that should have led to lower prices, [Walmart] continued to pay higher prices for packaged tuna products," the lawsuit reportedly reads.
Chicken of the Sea was not charged, instead receiving conditional leniency in exchange for assisting the Department of Justice's investigation. That allowed the company to reach a settlement with Walmart.
The rest of Walmart's lawsuit remains ongoing.