Bumble Bee pleaded guilty to price fixing in 2017

Bumble Bee pleaded guilty to price fixing in 2017

Bumble Bee Foods' president and chief executive, Christopher Lischewski, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in California for "participating in a conspiracy" to fix prices for packaged seafood sold in the US.

The US Department of Justice said in a filing yesterday (16 May) the charges relate to price fixing that began around November 2010 and lasted through December 2013, which suggests the case surrounding US seafood group Bumble Bee and other executives may date back longer than previously thought.

Suspicions of price fixing only came to light when Thailand's Thai Union Frozen Products made an approach to buy-out Bumble Bee in 2015 but later pulled out after the US Department of Justice questioned the impact on local competition. Thai Union had earlier acquired US-based King Oscar, building on its ownership of Chicken of the Sea through its US arm Tri-Union Seafoods.  

Lischewski is the fourth person to be charged as a result of the ongoing federal antitrust investigation into the packaged seafood industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division's San Francisco Office and the FBI's San Francisco Field Office, according to the US justice department.

Late in 2016, senior vice-president of trade marketing Kenneth Worsham became the second Bumble Bee executive to plead guilty for his role in the canned tuna pricing conspiracy, joining senior vice-president of sales Walter Scott Cameron. And last year, former StarKist senior VP of sales Stephen Hodge also pleaded guilty to the same charges.

The DoJ noted an indictment "merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt".

According to the DoJ's latest filing, Lischewski carried out the conspiracy by agreeing to fix prices during meetings and other communications. His co-conspirators issued price announcements and pricing guidance in accordance with those agreements.  

"The Antitrust Division is committed to prosecuting senior executives who unjustly profit at the expense of their customers," said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division. ''American consumers deserve free enterprise, not fixed prices, so the Department will not tolerate crimes like the one charged in today's indictment.''

Reuters reported that Lischewski's attorney, John Keker, said he was innocent.

"When the facts are known and the truth emerges, Mr. Lischewski will be found not guilty, and that vindication will rightfully restore his good name," Keker said.