LIMA, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Peru's anti-trust regulator said Friday it had started a sanctions procedure against 17 shipping companies it suspects of having fixed prices together for years on goods moved between the country's Callao port and Asia.
Authorities could fine each company 12 percent of its parent company's annual earnings if wrongdoing is confirmed, said Jesus Espinoza, an official with regulator Indecopi.
Seized evidence from inspections, such as business emails and minutes from meetings, point to a cartel that schemed to jack up freight fees between 2009 and 2013 and perhaps longer, Indecopi said in a statement.
Shipping companies named as suspects include units belonging to A.P. Moller-Maersk, Hapag Lloyd AG and American President Lines Ltd, owned by Neptune Orient Lines .
A spokesperson for Maersk said he could not immediately provide comment outside of regular business hours. The other companies did not immediately respond to requests for reaction.
Espinoza said each firm had 30 days to submit a defense. The investigation could take up to a year and a half to conclude.
The suspected cartel would have hurt the competitiveness of export companies operating in Peru and might have pushed up the cost of imports in the Andean country, Espinoza told a press conference.
Peru is a leading global exporter of copper, zinc, silver, gold and fishmeal, and has exported at least $20 billion worth of goods per year since 2009.
The inquiry follows similar competition probes involving groups of shipping companies in the European Union and China. (Reporting by Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by James Dalgleish)