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A federal jury returned a $49 million verdict Friday against four companies that make and sell vitamins, finding they conspired to fix vitamin prices. If the verdict stands, it would be tripled to $147 million under federal antitrust laws. The companies found liable in the civil case are animal feed manufacturer DuCoa LP of Highland, Ill.; its parent company, DCV Inc. of Wilmington, Del.; Japanese trading firm Mitsui & Co. Ltd.; and its New York subsidiary, Mitsui & Co. (USA) Inc. The lawsuit, filed by wholesale vitamin purchasers, alleged the companies participated in a worldwide conspiracy to raise and fix prices and divide market share for choline chloride, also known as vitamin B4, a common ingredient used in animal feed. The case is one of several pending lawsuits around the nation alleging that dozens of vitamin makers oversaw a conspiracy to artificially raise prices for vitamins A, B, C and E. Other drug companies have already paid more than $1 billion to settle similar charges. Michael D. Hausfeld, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said the verdict is significant because Mitsui is the first international trading company to be found liable under U.S. antitrust laws. “This case signals that international traders in commodities affecting prices in U.S. markets can and will be held responsible under U.S. antitrust laws,” Hausfeld said. Sutton Keany, a lawyer for Mitsui, said his clients would ask Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan to throw out the jury’s verdict as a matter of law and appeal the case if necessary. “The companies have denied from the beginning that they have participated in any wrongdoing of any kind and that absolutely remains their position,” Keany said. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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