Kraft, Mondelez must face wheat price-rigging lawsuit: U.S. judge

Mon Jun 27, 2016 5:03pm EDT
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Chicago on Monday refused to dismiss a lawsuit in which wheat futures and options traders accused Kraft Heinz Co and Mondelez International Inc of illegally manipulating the grain's price at their expense.

U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang said traders may pursue claims that a large and, in their view, unnecessary late 2011 purchase by Kraft Foods Inc of wheat futures contracts violated the Sherman antitrust law and the Commodity Exchange Act.

In a 66-page decision, Chang also dismissed claims that the defendants conducted offsetting "wash trades" over roughly a decade to create an illusion of greater market activity. He said the traders can try to bring those claims again.

Kraft and Mondelez were named as defendants because most of the alleged suspicious activity occurred before Kraft Foods Inc split in two in 2012. Mondelez brands now include snack foods such as Oreos, Ritz crackers and Wheat Thins.

Many of the allegations were similar to those raised by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission in an April 2015 lawsuit against Kraft and Mondelez.

A Kraft Heinz spokesman and a Mondelez spokeswoman declined to comment on the decision.

Vincent Briganti, a lawyer for the traders, said he was pleased the court found "multiple viable claims."

The CFTC said Kraft Foods bought $90 million of December 2011 wheat futures, giving it a dominant position in that market, despite never intending to take possession of the grain.   Continued...

A box of Kraft macaroni and cheese and a Heinz Ketchup bottle are displayed together on a grocery store shelf in New York March 25, 2015.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid