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UPDATE 1-StarKist ordered to pay $100 mln criminal fine for fixing tuna prices

Diane Bartz

prices@ (Adds details on ruling, background on dispute, DOJ and StarKist comment)

WASHINGTON, Sept 11 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge ordered StarKist Co to pay a $100 million criminal fine for working with other companies to fix the prices of canned tuna, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

The company agreed in October to plead guilty to fixing canned tuna prices from late 2011 to late 2013. The company was also put on 13 months probation, the department said.

"Hard-working Americans deserve the benefits of open competition when they spend their hard-earned money on items that stock kitchen shelves," Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, said in a statement.

StarKist said in a statement that the sentencing, by U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco, resolved all of its outstanding criminal antitrust issues.

"We have cooperated with the (Justice Department) during the course of its investigation and accept responsibility," said Andrew Choe, StarKist president & CEO. "We have addressed the necessary actions required in this agreement and we will continue to strengthen related compliance best practices."

The canned tuna market in the United States has long been dominated by three companies. Thai Union's Chicken of the Sea is the largest, followed by Bumble Bee Foods LLC and StarKist. In December 2015, the Justice Department stopped Thai Union Group from buying Bumble Bee.

Bumble Bee is controlled by private equity firm Lion Capital and StarKist by South Korea's Dongwon Industries Co.

Bumble Bee agreed in May 2017 to plead guilty to one count of fixing the prices of canned tuna and to pay a criminal fine of $25 million. Two Bumble Bee executives also agreed to plead guilty to price-fixing, as did one StarKist executive.

StarKist has also settled antitrust lawsuits brought by consumer groups and WalMart. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by David Gregorio)