Antitrust Alert: U.S. DOJ Obtains First-Ever Extradition on Antitrust Charge
On April 4, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ") announced its first successful extradition to the United States on an antitrust charge. Romano Pisciotti, an Italian national and a former executive with Parker ITR Srl, was transferred from Germany to the United States last week to face criminal price fixing charges. While the DOJ previously has extradited a foreign national on obstruction of justice charges relating to a criminal antitrust investigation, Pisciotti’s extradition is the first instance in which the DOJ extradited a defendant solely based on antitrust charges.
According to a one-count felony indictment, Pisciotti was part of an international cartel that fixed prices and rigged bids in the market for marine hose, a flexible hose used to transfer oil between tankers and storage facilities. Five companies and nine individuals have pled guilty in connection with the conspiracy. Pisciotti is charged with violating the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million criminal fine for individuals.
The Antitrust Division frequently places targets of an investigation, or individuals indicted for antitrust offenses such as Pisciotti, on the government’s "border watch" list. Under this program, if the individual attempts to travel in or out of the United States, he or she could be stopped by customs officials, questioned, and even arrested. Likewise, the Antitrust Division has utilized INTERPOL's "Red Notice" system, an international "wanted list" monitored by INTERPOL’s member countries, to capture and detain fugitives traveling between foreign jurisdictions. As the DOJ has put it, "even if a fugitive resides in a country that would not extradite the defendant to the United States for an antitrust offense, the fugitive still runs the risk of being extradited if he travels outside of his home country." If a wanted individual travels to a country where he or she is on a Red Notice list, that country may choose to detain the individual and entertain an extradition request from the United States.
This is precisely what happened in this matter. Pisciotti was traveling back to Italy from Nigeria in June 2013 when he was arrested in a German airport. He was held in Germany until being transferred to the United States last week. Since then, a U.S. magistrate judge granted the DOJ’s request to hold Pisciotti in custody in the United States pending his trial. Meanwhile, Pisciotti continues to seek review of the circumstances of his extradition both in Italy and in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, arguing that EU law should apply and that he was a victim of "discrimination on the basis of nationality" by Germany.
Pisciotti's extradition is yet another signal that the DOJ will continue to aggressively enforce the U.S. antitrust laws against anyone who sells products in the United States, regardless of where that person resides. The extradition is also an indication that, due to increasing cooperation between the United States and other countries, foreign nationals suspected of antitrust violations are at risk of extradition to the United States even when they travel outside of the United States.
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