Nine Japan-based firms and two executives have agreed to plead guilty and pay fines totaling more than $740 million for their roles in an international price-fixing scheme that provided parts to U.S. automakers, according to the Department of Justice.
“These international price-fixing conspiracies affected more than $5 billion in automobile parts sold to U.S. car manufacturers, and more than 25 million cars purchased by American consumers were affected by the illegal conduct,” Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement Thursday. “The Department of Justice will continue to crack down on cartel behavior that causes American consumers and businesses to pay higher prices for the products and services they rely upon in their everyday lives.”
The pleadings and fines are the result of a long-running investigation that focused on price-fixing on a variety of components including instrument panels, air bags and steering wheels. The probe has expanded over time as implicated auto-parts companies have presented evidence of price fixing in other previously undiscovered schemes.
The first charges were filed in 2011. With Thursday’s agreements, 20 companies have agreed to pay more than $1.6 billion in criminal fines. Seventeen of the 21 charged executives have been sentenced to U.S. prisons or entered into plea agreements calling for significant prison sentences.
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Each of the companies and executives charged Thursday has agreed to cooperate with the department’s ongoing antitrust investigation. The plea agreements are subject to court approval. The companies’ and executives’ agreed-upon fines and sentences are:
- Hitachi Automotive Systems Ltd. to pay a $195 million criminal fine;
- Jtekt Corp., $103.27 million criminal fine;
- Mitsuba Corp., $135 million criminal fine;
- Mitsubishi Electric Corp., $190 million criminal fine;
- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., $14.5 million criminal fine;
- NSK Ltd., $68.2 million criminal fine;
- T.RAD Co. Ltd., $13.75 criminal fine;
- Valeo Japan Co. Ltd., $13.6 million criminal fine;
- Yamashita Rubber Co. Ltd., $11 million criminal fine;
- Tetsuya Kunida, a Japanese citizen and former executive of a U.S. subsidiary of a Japan-based automotive anti-vibration rubber products supplier, 12 months and one day in a U.S. prison, $20,000 criminal fine; and
- Gary Walker, a U.S. citizen and former executive of a U.S. subsidiary of a Japan-based automotive products supplier, 14 months in prison, $20,000 criminal fine.
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Generally, the companies, executives and co-conspirators engaged in the various price-fixing schemes by attending meetings and communicating by telephone in the United States and Japan to reach collusive agreements to rig bids, set prices and allocate the supply of auto parts sold to the car manufacturers.
They took measures to keep their conduct secret by using code names and meeting in remote locations, the Justice Department said.
The multiple conspiracies also hurt U.S. automobile plants in 14 states: Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, the department said.
First published September 26 2013, 11:39 AM