Almost one year ago, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Norwegian Shipping company Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS (WWL) had agreed to pay a $98.9 million fine for its role in a conspiracy to control prices for roll-on, roll-off cargo (such as cars, trucks, and agricultural equipment) shipped to and from the United States. At the time, the DOJ acknowledged that, in addition to the fine, WWL was cooperating in ongoing investigations and affirmed the Department’s commitment to holding “companies and executives” accountable.
Last week, the DOJ announced that the indictment against three current and former executives of WWL subsidiaries had been unsealed and that the prosecutions of these individuals were proceeding. The indictment – presented to the grand jury in November 2016 – alleges that the individuals attended meetings and engaged in communications in which executives from several large shipping companies allocated customers and routes by agreeing to the amounts that each company would bid for certain contracts.
The DOJ also announced that these prosecutions represented three of eleven executives who have been charged in connection with this conspiracy. Four executives had plead guilty and were sentenced to prison terms. The rest are considered “international fugitives.” Further, the DOJ again made clear that it remains committed to prosecuting individuals as well as corporations, stating: “WWL has pleaded guilty. Now we are working to ensure that its executives who conspired to suppress competition at the expense of American consumers will be held accountable.”
It appears that the DOJ is following through with the directives of the September 2015 Yates Memo and is no longer satisfied by large corporate fines. The fact that four executives have been sentenced to prison, three are being actively prosecuted, and five more are considered fugitives — all almost a year after the $98.9 million fine headline — shows that the DOJ is genuinely re-focused on individual accountability. Accordingly, compliance and whistle-blower programs must have new found importance not only to corporations, but to the individual officers, directors, and executives who may be held accountable for corporate malfeasance.