Bumble Bee CEO indicted in tuna price-fixing conspiracy

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Price-fixing allegations have rocked the food world for the second time this year, as the CEO of Bumble Bee Foods is facing criminal charges for allegedly working to eliminate competition in the packaged seafood industry. One, who served as senior vice president for sales, pleaded guilty past year. A private class-action lawsuit has accused Bumble Bee, Starkist and Tri Union Seafoods, also known as Chicken of the Sea, of conspiring to fix US tuna prices.

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 United States justice department.

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

"American consumers deserve free enterprise, not fixed prices, so the (Justice) Department will not tolerate crimes like the one charged in today's indictment", Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general in charge of the department's Antitrust Division, said in a statement.

Those three companies have long dominated the USA tuna market.

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The indictment, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, charges Lischewski with participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of packaged seafood beginning in or about November 2010 until December 2013.

The Department of Justice alleges that Lischewski met and communicated with rival seafood companies to keep tuna prices artificially high.

According to the DoJ's latest filing, Lischewski carried out the conspiracy by agreeing to fix prices during meetings and other communications.

As part of its guilty plea, Bumble Bee has agreed to pay a $25m criminal fine, which will increase to a maximum criminal fine of $81.5m, payable by a related entity, in the event of a sale of the company subject to certain terms and conditions.

Lischewski isn't the only Bumble Bee executive to be charged in connection with the scheme.