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Canadian watchdog files criminal charges against Nestlé, Mars

Food giants allegedly conspired to fix prices of chocolate products.

The Competition Bureau, the Canadian law enforcement agency, has filed criminal charges against Nestlé Canada, Mars Canada, and ITWAL, as well as three individuals for their involvement in fixing the prices of chocolate confectionery products in the country.

The individuals who have been charged include Robert Leonidas, former president of Nestlé Canada; Sandra Martinez, former president of confectionery for Nestlé Canada; and David Glenn Stevens, president and CEO of ITWAL, the national network of independent wholesale distributors.

“We are fully committed to pursuing those who engage in egregious anti-competitive behaviour that harms Canadian consumers,” said John Pecman, interim commissioner of the agency.

Alleging conspiracy under the Competition Act, the agency said that its investigation found proof that suggests the accused conspired, agreed or arranged  to fix prices of chocolate products.

“Price-fixing is a serious criminal offence and today's charges demonstrate the Competition Bureau's resolve to stop cartel activity in Canada,” added Pecman.

The bureau became aware of this conduct through its Immunity Program, under which the first party that discloses an offence not yet detected or  provides evidence leading to a referral of evidence to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) may receive immunity from the PPSC.

The agency recommended to the PPSC that Hershey Canada should receive lenient treatment for its cooperation in the investigation.

Hershey is expected to plead guilty on 21 June for its role in the conspiracy to fix the prices.

Individuals or firms found guilty under the current conspiracy provision in the Competition Act will be fined with $25m and/or imprisonment for up to 14 years.