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StarKist Fined $100 Mln For Fixing Tuna Price

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StarKist Co. has been ordered by a federal judge to pay a criminal fine of $100 million for its role in a price-fixing scheme for canned tuna sold in the U.S. This is the highest corporate fine and the statutory maximum in the ongoing federal investigation into the packaged seafood industry.

In addition, the judge sentenced Pittsburgh-based Starkist, a subsidiary of South Korea's Dongwon Group, to thirteen months of probation.

According to a statement from the Justice Department, Starkist was fined for its participation in a conspiracy to fix the prices of canned tuna fish from as early as November 2011 to December 2013. The conspiracy included rival tuna companies Bumble Bee Foods and Chicken of the Sea.

"Hard-working Americans deserve the benefits of open competition when they spend their hard-earned money on items that stock kitchen shelves. When a corporation cheats customers at the checkout line, the Antitrust Division will hold it accountable to the greatest extent," said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

StarKist had asked U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen to reduce the fine to $50 million, saying that a $100 million penalty could result in its bankruptcy as it faces other civil damages. However, the judge noted StarKist had not proven that its financial circumstances justified a lower criminal fine.

In addition to the criminal fine and term of probation, StarKist agreed to cooperate in the Antitrust Division's ongoing investigation.

The scheme came to light when Chicken of the Sea's attempt to acquire San Diego-based Bumble Bee failed in 2015. The company's executives then alerted federal investigators about the scheme, who agreed to protect the company from criminal prosecution in exchange for its cooperation.

In 2017, Bumble Bee had pleaded guilty to the same charge as StarKist and paid a fine of $25 million. Two former executives of Bumble Bee and an executive from StarKist also pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges, but none of them have been sentenced.

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