US fines Japan car parts makers $548m

Two of Japan’s biggest car parts makers, Denso and Yazaki, have agreed to pay fines totalling $548m to the US government as part of a widening global price-fixing probe.

The Department of Justice said on Monday that four Yazaki executives have also agreed to plead guilty and will serve prison terms of between 15 months and two years each.

The action against Denso and Yazaki comes on the heels of price-fixing investigations against numerous other suppliers of electrical and electronic components, such as wire harnesses, instrument panel clusters and heater control panels.

The department’s antitrust division described the car parts investigation as the biggest it has ever pursued in terms of its scope and the volume of trade affected by the illegal conduct. The investigations have also involved authorities in the European Union, Japan and Canada.

Sharis Pozen, acting assistant attorney-general, said that “our investigation is still active and ongoing”.

Furukawa Electric agreed last September to pay a $200m fine in the car parts probe. Three Furukawa executives, all Japanese citizens, also pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms.

Car parts makers around the world have come under intensifying scrutiny from antitrust regulators in the wake of a spate of acquisitions and other industry developments that have spurred concerns about uncompetitive practices.

The DoJ and the European Commission revealed last summer that they were also investigating Sweden’s Autoliv and Michigan-based TRW, two of the biggest suppliers of airbags and safety belts.

Autoliv has said that while it cannot predict the duration or outcome of the US and EU investigations, its operating results and cash flows “will be materially impacted”.

The DoJ did not name the victims of Denso’s and Yazaki’s actions, but said that the guilty executives worked in Yazaki’s Honda and Toyota divisions. Toyota owns a 23 per cent stake in Denso.

The department said that the executives “carried out the conspiracies by agreeing during meetings and conversations to allocate the supply of the products on a model-by-model basis and to co-ordinate price adjustments requested by automobile manufacturers in the US and elsewhere”.

They sold the parts to carmakers at rigged prices and monitored the prices to make sure those involved in the conspiracies adhered to the price-fixing scheme, the department added.



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