Former air cargo executive pleads guilty in price-fixing conspiracy

Martinair Cargo’s former head of cargo sales and marketing is headed to prison for her role in an air cargo price-fixing scheme.

Maria Chistina “Meta” Ullings, who was extradited from Italy to the U.S. earlier this month, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring with others to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing and coordinating certain surcharges, including fuel surcharges, levied on customers in the U.S. and elsewhere, the U.S. Department of Justice said. Ullings, who DOJ considered a fugitive for almost 10 years, was sentenced to 14 months in prison and ordered to pay a $20,000 criminal fine.

A total of 22 airlines around the world and 21 executives have been charged in DOJ’s investigation into what was known as an air cargo cartel, and $1.8 billion in criminal fines have been imposed. Ullings becomes the eighth cargo executive to have been sentenced in a U.S. court to serve prison time in connection with the conspiracy.

The cartel was active from 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 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.

Ullings was apprehended by Italian authorities in July while she was visiting Sicily. She initially contested extradition, but waived her appeal after an Italian court ruled against her, DOJ said. She arrived in Atlanta on Jan. 10 and made her first appearance in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on Jan. 13.

Ullings, who served as senior vice president of cargo sales and marketing and is a Dutch national, will be given credit for the time she was held in Italy pending her extradition.