BUSINESS

Mars Canada Freed Of Chocolate Price-Fixing Charges

09/10/2015 09:15 EDT | Updated 09/10/2015 09:59 EDT

OTTAWA — Prosecutors have abandoned charges against two companies and two top executives charged in an eight-year-old investigation into price fixing in the chocolate confectionery business in Canada.

The federal Competition Bureau disclosed Thursday that the Public Prosecution Service of Canada had entered a stay of proceedings on Sept. 8 against distributor ITWAL Ltd. as well as its former chief executive, David Glenn Stevens.

Stays were also entered in proceedings against Mars Canada Inc. and against Sandra Martinez, a former president of confectionery for Nestle Canada Ltd.

Proceedings against Nestle Canada itself and its former chief executive, Robert Leonidas, are continuing, the bureau said. The charges have not been proven in court.

No reason was give for the Crown's decision.

Although it rarely happens, when charges are stayed, as opposed to withdrawn, the Crown can revive them if it does so within a year of the stay.

The charges stem from an investigation launched in July 2007 after the Competition Bureau was contacted by Cadbury Adams Canada Inc. under the bureau's immunity program.

As part of the same investigation, Hershey Canada Inc. pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of price fixing for chocolate confectionery products in Canada, and was fined $4 million in June 2013.

Hershey Canada Inc. had co-operated in bureau's investigation and it recommended the company receive lenient treatment in return.

In September 2013, all of the companies agreed to pay more than $23.2-million between them to settle class-action cases launched on behalf of chocolate buyers in Canada over the alleged price fixing. All denied the allegations but said they settled to avoid the expense, inconvenience and distraction of further litigation.

Anyone who purchased at least $1,000 of chocolate between October 2005 and September 2007 was eligible to make claim. Those without receipts could claim a maximum of only $50.

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