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Salmon farmers maintain innocence as US issues subpoenas

The US Department of Justice has begun a criminal investigation into alleged price fixing in the salmon market.
The US Department of Justice has begun a criminal investigation into alleged price fixing in the salmon market.

Mowi and Scottish Sea Farms (SSF) co-owners SalMar and Lerøy have denied any wrongdoing after being sent subpoenas from the US Department of Justice in relation to a probe into alleged price fixing.

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Grieg Seafood said two US-based subsidiaries of its marketing company Ocean Quality had also received a subpoena.

Mowi, Grieg and SSF premises in Scotland were the target of unannounced inspections by European Commission (EC) inspectors on February 19. 

The officials were exploring potential anti-competitive behaviour in the salmon industry. Claims of price fixing have also led to class action lawsuits in the US.

Allegations ‘unsubstantiated’

In a market announcement last night Mowi said it had been informed that it would receive a subpoena from the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice which was opening a criminal investigation into the allegations.

“Mowi considers that there are no bases for the EU inspection and that the class action complaints clearly lack merit and are entirely unsubstantiated. This equally applies to any criminal investigation in the US,” stated the firm.  

“Mowi will fully cooperate with the Department of Justice and will provide as requested all information in relation to our US subsidiaries.

“There is no new information regarding the European Commission’s case handling.”

‘Complaints clearly lack merit’

SalMar’s response was almost identical. It said: “SalMar considers that there are no bases for the EU inspection and that the class action complaints clearly lack merit and are entirely unsubstantiated. This equally applies to any criminal investigation in the US.”

It has also promised full cooperation with the US DoJ.

This afternoon, Lerøy said a US subsidiary, Lerøy Seafood USA, inc., had also received a subpoena. “Lerøy considers there to be no basis for the investigations. The same applies to the class action complaints in the US, which Lerøy considers to be without merit,” it said in a market announcement.

US subsidiaries  

Grieg said it had been informed that the two US-based subsidiaries of Ocean Quality AS, Ocean Quality USA, Inc, and Ocean Quality Premium Brands, Inc. had received a subpoena.

The company said: “Grieg Seafood ASA and Ocean Quality AS are not aware of any kind of practices that support the allegations, or other practices that undermines competition in either the EU or the US.

“Grieg Seafood ASA and Ocean Quality AS will fully cooperate with the Department of Justice and will provide as requested all information in relation to the US subsidiaries.”

Norwegian salmon

Although February’s raids took place in Scotland, it it believed the EC’s real targets were in Norway. Letters were sent to some companies earlier in the month to notify them that there would be inspections in February.

The letters said the EC had received information ‘alleging that some Norwegian producers of farmed Norwegian Atlantic salmon’ had participated in ‘anti-competitive agreements’.

Norway is not in the EU member state and as an EEA (European Economic Area) country is not under the same EU jurisdiction as the UK. Investigators therefore had to use Scotland as a back door into the affairs of the companies.

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