WASHINGTON Feb 27 (Reuters) - Chilean shipping firm Compania Sudamericana de Vapores has agreed to plead guilty to a price-fixing conspiracy and pay an $8.9 million criminal fine to the U.S. government, the U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday.
The Justice Department's antitrust prosecutors said in a statement that the company had conspired to rig bids to push up prices of shipping cargo such as cars and trucks to and from the United States.
"Today's charges are the first to be filed in the Antitrust Division's investigation into bid rigging and price fixing of ocean shipping services," said Bill Baer, assistant attorney general in charge of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division.
Vapores, majority-owned by the billionaire Luksic family, Chile's richest, has been seeking to battle steep losses caused by low freight rates, high fuel prices and expensive leases.
It recently announced a business tie-up with Germany's Hapag-Lloyd that would create the world's fourth largest container-shipping company.
In a statement to the Chilean regulator, the company said the board had instructed the administration provide "maximum collaboration" in the investigation. Vapores added that the fine won't affect its results.
The company agreed to plead guilty to one felony count filed in the U.S. District Court for Maryland, the Justice Department said.
Shares in Vapores closed 1.16 percent lower on Thursday, underperforming the broader blue-chip Santiago index, which inched up 0.37 percent.