U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter on July 25 rejected an emergency appeal from Stolt-Nielsen SA to freeze the Justice Department's pursuit of antitrust charges against it. Stolt-Nielsen has challenged the power of government prosecutors to revoke an amnesty agreement shielding it from prosecution over an alleged plot to divvy up customers in the parcel shipping business, which involves the transport of bulk liquids such as chemicals. The company's emergency petition asked the U.S. Supreme Court to bar lower court proceedings against it and a U.S.-based executive, Richard Wingfield, while a separate appeal to the Supreme Court on underlying legal issues was pending. Souter, acting for the court, turned away that request.
In filings with the court, the company said the uncertainty is weighing on the company's business. According to The Associated Press, Stolt-Nielsen's stock price has dropped 37 percent since a federal appeals court ruled
against in March 2006. The Justice Department, in its own Supreme Court filing, said it revoked the amnesty deal because it believes the company didn't hold up its part of the amnesty deal. Amnesty was revoked in March 2004 and the matter has been in litigation since then.
A panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia in March ruled that federal courts didn't have the power to block government prosecutors from pursuing the company and its officers because of the amnesty deal. The ruling overturned a decision by a U.S. District Court judge, who said the deal barred indictments.
The Justice Department began investigating Stolt-Nielsen in November 2002 after The Wall Street Journal published a story about a lawsuit brought by the company's former general counsel alleging Stolt-Nielsen Transportation Group Ltd. had broken anti-collusion laws. The company's second appeal with the Supreme Court will be considered this fall when the justices return from summer recess. (Source: The Associated Press)