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UPDATE 1-Pilgrim's Pride says CEO begins paid leave of absence

(Updates to add details on indictment)

June 14 (Reuters) - Pilgrim’s Pride Corp CEO Jayson Penn began a paid leave of absence following his indictment earlier this month on charges of seeking to set a fixed price for chickens with other industry executives, the company said Sunday.

Pilgrim’s Pride’s board of directors appointed chief financial officer Fabio Sandri as interim president and chief executive of the company, which is mostly owned by Brazilian meat packer JBS SA.

“The board takes the recent allegations very seriously and believes it is in the best interests of both Jayson and the company that he is given the opportunity to focus on his legal defense during this time,” Chairman Gilberto Tomazoni said in a statement.

Penn was indicted along with three other current and former industry executives on charges of price-fixing for chickens, the U.S. Justice Department said on June 3.

The charges against Penn and three others in the industry are the first in a criminal probe of price-fixing and bid-rigging involving broiler birds, which account for most chicken meat sold in the United States.

The indictment says a conspiracy to fix chicken prices ran from 2012 until at least early 2017.

The companies have denied the allegations.

Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Anurag Maan; Additional Reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Christopher Cushing

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