Norwegian shipping company Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS (WWL) has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $98.9 million criminal fine for its involvement in a conspiracy to fix prices of international ocean shipments of roll-on, roll-off cargo to and from the Port of Baltimore and other locations in the United States, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
According to the one-count felony charge filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, WWL conspired with other roll-on, roll-off ocean shipping lines from at least February 2000 until at least September 2012 to fix prices, rig bids, and allocate customers. Roll-on, roll-off cargo is non-containerized cargo that can be rolled onto and off of an ocean-going vessel.
“WWL and its co-conspirators cheated their customers for years by fixing the prices of ocean shipping services for cars, trucks, and other cargo essential to our nation’s economy,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Renata B. Hesse, head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “The Antitrust Division, working together with our law enforcement colleagues, will continue to hold the ocean shipping companies and executives who perpetrated this scheme accountable for their crimes.”
“These charges brought today, and for the prior eight executives charged, outline a deceptive scheme to destabilize competition in the marketplace,” said Special Agent in Charge Kevin Perkins of the FBI’s Baltimore Division. “Those who engage in this type of criminal activity with the intent on corrupting our economy will be identified and brought to justice. To ensure we don’t erode the public’s trust in the competitive bidding process, the FBI will continue to work with the Antitrust Division to ensure the integrity of competition across all industries.”
WWL is the fourth company to agree to plead guilty in the investigation, which has resulted in over $230 million in agreed-upon fines. In addition, eight executives have been charged for their participation in the conspiracy. Four have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison terms. The other four executives have been indicted, but remain fugitives from justice.
In addition to paying its fine, WWL has agreed to cooperate with the department’s ongoing antitrust investigation. The plea agreement is subject to court approval.
The charge against WWL is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the international roll-on, roll-off ocean shipping industry.