(Updates with company statement in paragraph 6)
WASHINGTON, May 16 (Reuters) - The president and chief executive of Bumble Bee Foods LLC has been indicted by a federal grand jury in California on charges he conspired to fix prices for packaged seafood sold in the United States, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.
Christopher Lischewski, the fourth person to be charged in a federal price-fixing probe, was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, the department said in a statement.
Attorney John Keker said Lischewski 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 in a statement.
According to the indictment, Lischewski agreed to fix prices in meetings and other communications from November 2010 until December 2013.
“Our Board of Directors will act swiftly to ensure continuity in the company’s leadership,” said Jill Irvin, the company’s general counsel. “Bumble Bee has a strong senior management team in place and will continue to operate our business in usual fashion with an eye towards growth.”
Bumble Bee agreed in May last year to plead guilty to one count of price-fixing and to pay a criminal fine of $25 million. Two of its executives agreed to plead guilty to price-fixing in December 2016, following an investigation by the Justice Department’s Anti-Trust Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Stephen Hodge, a former executive at tuna producer StarKist, was also charged in May last year with participation in the conspiracy to fix the price of canned tuna from 2011 to 2013.
The canned tuna market in the United States has long been dominated by three companies. Thai Union Group Plc’s Chicken of the Sea is the largest, followed by Bumble Bee and StarKist. In December 2015, the Justice Department stopped Thai Union Group from buying Bumble Bee.
StarKist is a subsidiary of the Dongwon Group of South Korea.
Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Lisa Shumaker