A Japanese shipping line will pay a nearly $70 million fine after agreeing to plead guilty to fixing prices and rigging bids for services at the port of Baltimore, the Justice Department said Friday.
Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd., or K-Line, is the latest ocean carrier charged in a massive antitrust investigation of companies that federal officials say have conspired to drive up international shipping prices. K-Line, which was charged in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Friday, provides shipping services for roll-on, roll-off cargo — including cars, trucks and construction equipment — to and from the U.S. and elsewhere.
"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, who heads the Justice Department's antitrust division, said in a statement. "We are continuing our efforts to ensure that both the corporations and individuals involved in this cartel are held accountable for their acts and the harm they inflicted on American consumers."
According to charging documents, from at least 1997 to 2012, K-Line exported new cars and trucks from the port of Baltimore. The company and its co-conspirators divided up customers and routes, rigged bids and fixed prices to suppress or eliminate competition, the Justice Department charged.
K-Line officials could not be reached for comment Friday. The company's agreement to plead guilty and pay a $67.7 million criminal fine is pending court approval.
Earlier this year, Compania Sud Americana de Vapores S.A., a Chilean company, agreed to plead guilty and pay an $8.9 million fine on similar charges.
Automobile shipments are a major source of business at the port of Baltimore, which is ranked first among 360 U.S. ports for handling automobiles, light trucks, and farm and construction machinery. White said more than half of all international roll-on, roll-off carriers call in Baltimore.
In January alone, 33,321 automobiles passed through the port, which handled a total of 72,486 tons of roll-on, roll-off cargo.