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Australian Business Leader Charged With Price-Fixing

Competition regulator charged Australia's fourth richest person Richard Pratt with four counts of providing false or misleading evidence during a price-fixing probe.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Australia's competition regulator said Friday it charged Australian business leader Richard Pratt with four counts of providing false or misleading evidence during a price-fixing investigation.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said in a statement it had issued a summons for the 73-year-old cardboard industry king to appear in the Australian Federal Court in Melbourne on July 7 to face the charges.

Pratt's lawyer Leon Zwier said his client was shocked by the charges and would plead not guilty.

''Richard Pratt remains a proud Australian with unshaken faith in the Australian system of justice,'' Zwier told reporters.

Recently ranked Australia's fourth-richest person, Pratt admitted in the Federal Court last October that his company, Visy Industries Holdings, had formed an illegal cartel with rival Amcor to inflate prices in Australia's 2 billion Australian dollar ($1.8 billion) a year cardboard packaging market from 2000 to 2004.

Visy, the world's largest privately held paper and packaging manufacturer, was fined a record A$36 million ($32 million) in November for its part in the worst price-fixing scandal ever exposed in Australia.

The new criminal charges follow from that civil case. The charges allege Pratt knowingly gave false or misleading evidence on four occasions at a 2005 ACCC investigation into the cartel.

Pratt has not yet entered a plea to the charges, the ACCC statement said.

Visy will release a statement later Friday, a company official said.

Pratt faces a potential prison sentence of one year for each of the four charges.

In May, Australia's BRW magazine ranked Pratt as the fourth wealthiest Australian with an estimated personal fortune of A$5.5 billion ($5.2 billion).

Australia has no criminal penalties for price fixing, although the government plans to amend laws so that executives can be sent to prison for creating cartels.

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