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Cartels Beware: The Antitrust Division Launches Criminal Investigations in Key Industries

Division Update Spring 2018

The past year has seen significant progress in some of the Antitrust Division’s long-running criminal investigations, including ocean shipping, foreign currency exchange, and electrolytic capacitors. With these matters reaching successful resolutions or headed to trial, the Division has increased its focus on newer investigations into collusion in key industries for American consumers, such as packaged seafood.

International Shipping Services

Cargo ship

Photo credit: Click48/iStock/Thinkstock

The Division’s investigation into a global conspiracy to allocate the market, rig bids, and fix prices for international shipping services—specifically for roll-on, roll-off cargo like cars, trucks, and heavy machinery—has continued to produce results.

Most recently, Höegh Autoliners was charged and pleaded guilty to participating in this conspiracy. Höegh agreed to pay a $21 million criminal fine and accept terms of corporate probation. Total criminal fines in this investigation now exceed $255 million. In addition, four executives pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to prison terms; an additional seven executives are known to have been indicted but remain fugitives.

Financial Industry

Currency exchange board

Photo credit: Trexdigital/iStock/Thinkstock

The Division also continues to investigate bid rigging, price fixing, and related offenses in the financial industry. Over the past year, the Division’s investigation into the manipulation of the foreign currency exchange market resulted in a guilty plea from BNP Paribas USA, Inc., which has agreed to pay a $90 million criminal fine, for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices of Central and Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and African currencies.

Also in the past year, three U.K.–based former traders, who were indicted in January 2017 for conspiring to manipulate the price of the U.S. dollar and euro exchanged in the foreign exchange spot market, voluntarily surrendered and were arraigned in U.S. court; their trial is set for October 2018. The Division is also preparing for trial, along with the DOJ Criminal Division, against two individuals charged with manipulating the LIBOR benchmark interest rate.

Electrolytic Capacitors

Capacitors

Photo credit: 55Ohms/iStock/Thinkstock

The Division’s investigation into price fixing of electrolytic capacitors—a key component in consumer electronics—has resulted in filed cases against ten executives and eight companies, seven of which have agreed to plead guilty. Leading capacitors manufacturer Nippon Chemi-Con has been indicted, and is set to proceed to trial in October 2018.

Packaged Seafood

Cans

Photo credit: digicomphoto/iStock/Thinkstock

The Division is investigating U.S.–based packaged seafood producers for conspiring to fix the price of packaged seafood sold in the United States. In May 2017, Bumble Bee Foods pleaded guilty for its role in the conspiracy to fix the prices of shelf-stable tuna and was sentenced to pay a $25 million criminal fine, which will be increased to a maximum of $81.5 million if Bumble Bee is sold, subject to certain terms and conditions. A total of three executives have also pleaded guilty for their roles in this conspiracy.

The Antitrust Division will continue to protect American consumers and taxpayers by investigating and prosecuting criminal antitrust violations across all sectors of the economy.

Updated April 10, 2018

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