FDA Orders First Debarment Of A Food Importer

SILVER SPRING, Md., Dec. 11 — A Virginia man
sentenced to five years in prison for his role in a conspiracy to import
catfish from Vietnam for fraudulent sale to avoid paying federal import
tariffs has been barred from importing articles of food or offering such
articles for import into the United States for the next 20 years, the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today.

This action represents the agency’s first debarment of a food importer.
Peter Xuong Lam, president of Virginia Star Seafood Corporation of
Fairfax, Va., participated in a conspiracy to sell frozen catfish
fillets falsely labeled as sole, grouper, flounder, snakehead, channa,
and other species of fish to avoid paying federal import tariffs. None
of the species’ names used by Lam and his co-conspirators to falsely
label the fish are subject to federal tariffs.

Under current law, the FDA may debar a person from importing an article
of food or offering such an article for import into the United States if
that person has been convicted of a felony for conduct relating to the
importation into the United States of any food. The law also provides
that the FDA may debar a person if that person has engaged in a pattern
of importing or offering for import adulterated food that presents a
threat of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or
animals. The statute allots the agency up to five years to take such

Lam was convicted by U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez for the
Central District of California of four felony counts relating to the
importation into the United States of food, and is prohibited from
importing articles of food or offering such articles for import into the
United States, and others are prohibited from importing food with Lam’s
assistance or under his direction, for the next 20 years.

In addition to his prison sentence, the court ordered Lam to forfeit
more than $12 million to reimburse the government for anti-dumping

“The FDA will use its debarment authority to protect the safety and
integrity of the American food supply,” said Michael Chappell, acting
associate commissioner for regulatory affairs.

The conspiracy involved more than 10 million pounds of frozen catfish
fillets from Vietnam. DNA tests revealed that the frozen fillets in the
Lam case were in fact Pangasius hypophthalmus, a fish in the catfish
family that may be marketed under the names Swai, Sutchi, Tra or Striped

An anti-dumping duty was placed on Pangasius hypophthalmus imports from
Vietnam in January 2003, after a petition was filed by U.S. catfish
farmers, who said the fish were being imported from Vietnam at less than
fair market value.

To date, 12 individuals and companies have been convicted in U.S. courts
of criminal charges related to the scheme to avoid paying import tariffs
by falsely labeling fish for import and then selling it in the United
States at below market price. The organizer of the smuggling conspiracy,
Nhan Huhn Dat (aka Henry) Nguyen, remains a fugitive and is believed to
be living in Vietnam.

The case was investigated by Special Agents of the FDA’s Office of
Criminal Investigations; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, Fisheries, Office of Law Enforcement; and U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Source: FDA