Former air cargo executive extradited to US to face price-fixing charges

A former senior executive at Dutch carrier Martinair has been extradited from Italy to the U.S. to face charges for her alleged part in a long-running international conspiracy to fix prices in the air cargo market.

Maria Christina “Meta” Ullings, the former senior vice president of cargo sales and marketing for Martinair, which now is a subsidiary of Air France-KLM, arrived in Atlanta on Friday and made her initial appearance in federal court on Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Ullings was indicted in September 2010 for allegedly conspiring with others to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing and coordinating certain surcharges, including fuel surcharges, charged to air cargo customers in the U.S. and elsewhere. Ullings is alleged to have participated in the conspiracy from as early as January 2001 until at least February 2006. She was apprehended in Sicily by Italian authorities in July and initially contested extradition, but after an appeals court there ruled against her, she waived her appeal, DOJ said.

The air cargo cartel in which Ullings is alleged to have participated was active from as early as 1999 to about 2006 and involved numerous carriers in the U.S., Europe, South America and the Asia Pacific region. The cartel came to light when it was reported to European authorities by Lufthansa and its Swiss International Airlines subsidiary. Since then, legal action has been taken against companies and individuals by courts, antitrust tribunals and regulators in multiple jurisdictions, including Europe, the U.S., Australia and Canada.

In the U.S., 22 airlines and 21 executives have been charged in the DOJ’s investigation. More than $1.8 billion in criminal fines have been imposed and seven executives have been sentenced to prison.

In March 2017, the European Commission readopted a previous decision against 11 air cargo carriers and imposed a fine of €776 million ($863 million) for operating a price-fixing cartel.

In addition to Martinair, carriers involved included Air Canada, British Airways, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss, Polar Air Cargo, Northwest Airlines (since merged with Delta), Asiana, SAS Cargo and Cathay Pacific among others.