An international group of vitamin manufacturers that allegedly carried a price-fixing conspiracy over the course of 12 years has agreed to pay over $25 million to settle a class action lawsuit by 22 states and the District of Columbia.

The suit accuses the vitamin makers of flouting state and federal antitrust laws by colluding on prices -- fixing, raising or maintaining them -- and plotting to target certain markets and consumers. It alleges the fraud spanned from January 1988 to December 1999.

"Price-fixing among competitors is not only unfair; it's illegal and intolerable, especially where consumers' health is involved," Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said in a statement.
Vermont is one of the states included in the class action, which charges the companies with defrauding and injuring consumers and businesses through a price-fixing scheme that raised the prices of vitamins. Its share of the settlement -- the first to be reported -- is a little over $65,000, and will go toward improving the nutrition and health of all Vermont residents, Sorell's announcement said.

Because the suit is on behalf of indirect purchasers, or entities that bought the products from distributors other than the manufacturers, there is no way to determine how many individuals were affected or which consumers overpaid and by how much. As a result, all funds from the $25 million settlement will go to government or charitable causes to improve public health and nutrition.

The defendants in the suits have denied any wrongdoing, but have agreed to settle in order to avoid further expense and litigation.

The supplements in question include popular consumer choices such as Vitamin A, Vitamin B1 (thiamin), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (niacin), Vitamin C, beta-carotene, Vitamin E, and others. Also affected are any other blends and products, made in part of those supplements, including vitamin tablets, processed foods, cosmetics, and animal feed.

The companies subject to the settlement are Akzo Nobel Inc., Bioproducts Incorporated, Mitsui & Co., Ltd., and Mitsui & Co. (U.S.A.), Inc., Chinook Global Limited and Chinook Group, Evonik Degussa GmbH, and Evonik Degussa Corporation, Lonza AG, Merck (MRK), E. Merck and EM Industries, Inc., Nepera, Inc., Sumitomo Chemical America, Inc. and Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd., Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation and Tanabe U.S.A., Inc., UCB Pharma, Inc., and Vertellus Specialties Inc. and Vertellus Chemicals SA.

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