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The credibility of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division suffered a blow late last month in a case that has been closely watched by the antitrust bar. On Nov. 30, a federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissed an indictment against Stolt-Nielsen, an international shipping company, and rebuked prosecutors for withdrawing an earlier immunity deal. The department’s leniency program gives amnesty to antitrust violators if they come forward and cooperate in further investigations. In 2003, Stolt-Nielsen received immunity when it admitted to conspiring with competitors to fix prices and agreed to help the government probe its co-conspirators. But last year the government indicted the company anyway. Prosecutors argued in court filings that there was “overwhelming” reason to revoke the agreement, because company executives did not immediately stop their practices when their general counsel first warned them about price-fixing in 2002. J. Mark Gidley and Christopher Curran of White & Case represented Stolt-Nielsen in the case. “The reality is that people are only going to come forward and turn themselves in if they have a high degree of confidence, in fact certitude, that the amnesty will be upheld,” says Curran. Former Antitrust Division official Alison Smith of Haynes and Boone in Houston says the ruling will help clarify the issue. “I thought that DOJ risked undermining its leniency program by revoking it,” says Smith. “Here, what the court has done is held DOJ to its bargain.” The Justice Department hasn’t decided whether to appeal. “We are disappointed with the court’s decision,” says Justice spokeswoman Gina Talamona.
Attila Berry can be contacted at [email protected]. Pedro Ruz Gutierrez can be contacted at [email protected]

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