Attorney General Griffin Bell today warned foreign governments that the United States intends to pursue antitrust violations in other countries that affect Americans retailiation if they try to block such probes.
The Bell speech bears on at least two current investigations - "our criminal investigation of the international uranium industry and our civil investigation of the international oil industry," Bell said.
A justice Department official revealed today that a federal grand jury in Washington is investigating charges that a five-nation uranium cartel rigged prices and tried to force competing companies out of business.
A top official of Gulf Oil Corp. admitted in a House hearing in June that a Gulf subsidiary took part in the uranium cartel and that the secret price-fixing agreements raised prices for some U.S. consumers.
"We are obligated to do all that we reasonably can to prosecute foreign private cartels which have the purpose and effect of causing significant economic harm in the United States in violation of antitrust laws," Bell said at a lucheon of the American Bar Association here.
"There is a fundamental United States interest in not having our citizens pay substantially higher prices for imports because private firms get together and rig international markets. There is also a fundamental United States interest at stake when private businesses, although foreign, get together to injure, and perhaps destroy, an American competitor."
In repeating the word "private," Bell seemed to be drawing a distinction between corporate cartels and those formed by governments, such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which control the price of raw materials.
Besides facing a federal grand jury probe, the companies in the uranium cartel are being sued in U.S. courts by squeezed it out of the market.
In its suit, Westinghouse is trying to get testimony from the British officers of Rio Tinto Zinc. Officials of the company first claimed the American Fifth Amendment. Then, when the step of granting them immunity from federal prosecution, the British businessmen took their case to the House of Lords.
While the Justice Department is not involved in that case, a federal official attending the ABA meeting here said the grand jury wants to see the statements of the RTZ officials.
Bell's speech contained an attack on the policies of other nations - including such staunch allies as Great Britain Canada, West Germany, Australia and the Netherlands - which have passed laws "to prevent persons within their territory from cooperating with the United States.
"They have established criminal sanctions for those who comply with United States law in violation of these blocking statues," Bell said.
He said friendship among nations should be reciprocal. "We owe deference to other nations when their vital national interests are at stake, and the conflicting United States interest carries a lesser weight. But other nations owe us, in turn, deference at least to the extent of working to a compromise if our fundamental national interests are directly affected."
He said failure to follow this principle could harm countries that try to block American investigations.
"I see no such excuse for deliberating enacting blocking legislation solely to frustrate U.S. antitrust laws. Without regard to the seriousness of the case or the national interest at stake.