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Cargill, one other processor to pay $24 million settlement in price fixing lawsuit

(Saturday, March 13, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Associated Press: PEORIA, Ill.- Two grain processing firms have proposed paying a combined $24 million to settle a nearly decade-old civil lawsuit that alleges they conspired to fix the price of high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener used in products ranging from soft drinks to pasta sauces.

Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc. and American Maize Products of Stamford, Conn., filed the no-fault settlement offer in federal court in Peoria this week after a year of negotiations with attorneys representing plaintiffs, which include Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

"We believe the settlement is fair and reasonable for the class," said Gregory Arenson, an attorney representing plaintiffs.

If approved, only two defendants would remain in the class-action lawsuit, which was filed in 1995 by about 20 corn syrup buyers. The case against Archer Daniels Midland Co. and A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co. is scheduled for a September trial.

Arenson said the settlement with Cargill and American Maize could potentially extend to about 2,700 plaintiffs who bought the corn-based sweetener from any of the four defendants or their subsidiaries from 1991 to 1995.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm approved a schedule Thursday that gives plaintiffs until May 10 to comment on the settlement offer or to raise objections. A hearing to rule on the proposed deal will be May 19.

The $24 million has already been placed in an escrow account and is collecting interest, which also will be distributed to plaintiffs if the deal is approved, according to court records.

The lawsuit grew out of a federal investigation into ADM's involvement in a price-fixing scandal involving the livestock feed supplement lysine and citric acid, used in food, detergents and other products.

ADM pleaded guilty to federal antitrust charges in that case and was fined $100 million, but received immunity from all other charges. The company was never convicted of fixing corn syrup prices.

Three former ADM executives received prison sentences in 1999 as a result of the price-fixing scandal.

The original corn syrup suit also named a fifth defendant, New Jersey-based CPC International Inc., which settled for $7 million in 1996.