Bumble Bee CEO indicted for tuna price fixing

The Bumble Bee CEO has been charged with conspiring to inflate tuna prices

The chief executive of San Diego-based Bumble Bee Foods has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Northern California for allegedly participating in a conspiracy to fix prices for packaged seafood sold in the United States.

"We are disappointed by the [Department of Justice's] decision to charge him with criminal conduct", Keker added.

Christopher Lischewski was indicted on a count of conspiracy.

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

Two other executives at Bumble Bee Foods have pleaded guilty in the price-fixing scheme, and past year the firm agreed to pay a $25 million fine after pleading guilty to price fixing. Thai Union had earlier acquired US-based King Oscar, building on its ownership of Chicken of the Sea through its United States arm Tri-Union Seafoods.

Lion Capital acquired Bumble Bee Food in 2010.

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Bumble Bee, based in San Diego, pleaded guilty previous year to a criminal charge of conspiring to fix tuna prices. Both parties, as well as a Cayman Islands-registered holding company, Big Catch, which directly owns Bumble Bee, could possibly have to pay millions in damages if civil suits from tuna buyers are successful.

The three firms are the largest suppliers of canned tuna in the U.S., so consumers and suppliers rely on competition between them to keep prices low.

The U.S. Department of Justice alleged Tuesday that Lischewski conspired with rival seafood companies to artificially inflate tuna prices.

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.

Two of the company's executives, Kenneth Worsham and Walter Cameron, have pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges but have yet to be sentenced.

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