“K” Line, the trade name for the Japanese transportation giant Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, Ltd., the world’s 16th largest container transportation and shipping company, was charged criminally this morning in Maryland federal court for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. The company has been charged via criminal information, which usually indicates a guilty plea is in the works. The information states that “K” Line and others conspired “to suppress and eliminate competition by allocating customers and routes, rigging bids, and fixing prices for international ocean shipping services for roll-on, roll-off cargo, such as cars and trucks, to and from the United States and elsewhere” between 1997 and 2012.
The alleged conspiracy by "K" is similar to Sherman Act charges brought earlier this year in Maryland against a Chilean company, Compania Sud Americana De Vapores S.A., or CSAV, which pleaded guilty and was sentenced in May. In that case, the company, the world's 20th largest container shipping company and one of the oldest, having been founded in 1872, agreed to pay an $8.9 million fine. According to a transcript of its sentencing hearing, CSAV's conspiracy lasted from Jan. 2000 to Sept. 2012, and "its sales for international ocean shipping services for new cars and trucks exported from the United States that were affected by the conspiracy were $63,658,074."
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued a press release about the K-Line case, announcing that the company has agreed to pay a $67.7 million fine and that “K-Line has agreed to cooperate with the Department’s ongoing antitrust investigation.”
“Our efforts exposed a long-running global conspiracy that operated globally, affecting the shipping costs of staggering numbers of cars, into and out of the Port of Baltimore, and other ports in the United States and across the globe,” Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, said in a statement.
The ongoing investigation into "price fixing, bid rigging, and other anticompetitive conduct in the international roll-on, roll-off ocean shipping industry" is being run by the DOJ Antitrust Division's Washington Criminal I Section and the FBI's Baltimore Field Office, with help from the Washington Field Office/Special Investigations Unit of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Internal Affairs, the press release explains.