Sentence-fixing for price-fixing

A recent prosecution of price-fixing “criminals” has resulted in some sort of landmark decision whereby the US and the UK will cooperate to a far greater degree than in the past in ensuring that the criminals receive a sentence, whether served in the UK or the US, at least equal to that they would receive in the US. Hmmm. Here’s the passage in the FT describing the result:

Under the deal, people familiar with the matter say, the men would be returned to London next week, where they would plead guilty to price-fixing. They would serve their jail time in the UK as long as the sentence imposed by the English courts was at least equal to the one the US authorities have in mind. If it is not, the US authorities would reserve the right to extradite the men back to the US.

The crime these men committed? “The US authorities allege the three were part of a conspiracy to fix the prices of hundreds of millions of dollars of marine hoses used to transfer oil between tankers and storage facilities.”

What exactly is price fixing?

According to wikipedia (no more authoritative than any other, just today’s convenient source, and the definition is not particularly controversial, now, is it?), it is “an agreement between business competitors to sell the same product or service at the same price. In general, it is an agreement intended to ultimately push the price of a product as high as possible…”

So here we have a case where businesses that are supposed to be competitive are instead being cooperative. And that’s been defined as a bad thing, punishable by fines and prison sentences.

At the same time, the governments of the US and the UK are saying that they will cooperate on punishment of these crimes to ensure, no matter which country has primacy in trying and sentencing cases that involve activities or business in both countries, that those found guilty will receive a sentence as high as possible.

I can’t be the only one who sees this as sentence-fixing, can I? I just don’t understand why the prosecution can get away with this. I’ve always heard that the punishment should fit the crime, but I never heard it said that the punishment should bear the same faults as the crime itself. I guess that’s an eye for an eye, put into 21st century practice.

Not everything in life is a football match. Some things are made better through cooperation than through competition. I am not convinced that punishment is one of them.

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