* DOJ antitrust division's largest criminal investigation
* Company execs met in remote locations, used code names -
* More than $5 billion in auto parts affected
By Diane Bartz and David Ingram
WASHINGTON, Sept 26 Nine companies based in
Japan and two executives have agreed to plead guilty and to pay
almost $745 million in fines for their roles in long-running
conspiracies to fix the prices of auto parts sold to U.S. car
manufacturers, the Department of Justice said on Thursday.
The settlements are the latest in an ongoing probe into
price fixing of a broad range of car parts that has now ensnared
20 companies and 21 executives. The companies have agreed to pay
$1.6 billion in fines overall.
The department said Thursday that price-fixed automobile
parts were sold to Fiat SpA affiliate Chrysler Group
LLC, Ford Motor Co and General Motors Co
, as well as to the U.S. subsidiaries of Honda Motor Co
Ltd, Mazda Motor Corp, Mitsubishi Motors Corp
, Nissan Motor Co Ltd, Toyota Motor Corp
and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd's Subaru.
In some cases the activity, which involved separate
conspiracies to fix prices of more than 30 different products,
lasted for a decade or longer, said Scott Hammond of the
department's antitrust division's criminal enforcement program.
"Every time we discover a conspiracy involving the
automotive industry, we seem to find another one," said Hammond.
Antitrust enforcers around the world were involved in the
probe, and Hammond credited Japan's competition agency with
first turning up some of the wrongdoing that was part of
Among the parts affected by the conspiracies were seat
belts, radiators, windshield wipers, air-conditioning systems,
power window motors and power steering components.
Justice Department officials declined to estimate how much
the collusion inflated the price of the parts, sold to
automakers for an estimated $5 billion. "More than 25 million
cars purchased by American consumers were affected by the
illegal conduct," said Attorney General Eric Holder.
Each of the companies and executives in the plea deal
announced on Thursday has agreed to cooperate with the
department's ongoing antitrust investigation, the Justice
"We will continue to check under every hood and kick every
tire to make sure we put an end to this illegal and destructive
conduct," Holder said.
Holder said that parts company executives typically met face
to face or talked via telephone to reach collusive agreements.
"In order to keep their illegal conduct secret, they used code
names and met in remote locations," he added.
The agreed-upon fines and sentences announced on Thursday
-Hitachi Automotive Systems Ltd to pay a $195
million criminal fine;
-Jtekt Corp to pay a $103.27 million criminal fine;
-Mitsuba Corp to pay a $135 million criminal fine;
-Mitsubishi Electric Corp (MELCO) to pay a $190
million criminal fine;
-Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd to pay a $14.5
million criminal fine;
-NSK Ltd to pay a $68.2 million criminal fine;
-T.RAD Co Ltd to pay a $13.75 million criminal
-Valeo Japan Co Ltd to pay a $13.6 million
-Yamashita Rubber Ltd to pay an $11 million
-Tetsuya Kunida, a Japanese citizen and former executive of
a U.S. subsidiary of a Japan-based automotive anti-vibration
rubber products supplier, to serve 12 months and one day in a
U.S. prison, and to pay a $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, to
serve 14 months in a U.S. prison, and to pay a $20,000 criminal
There was no immediate comment from eight of the companies.
Mitsubishi Electric, however, noted that it had cooperated
fully with the Justice Department. "We accept the terms of the
plea agreement and are now focused on moving forward," said
spokeswoman Cayce Blandard in an emailed statement.
Hammond said car makers had been concerned about the price
fixing. "We're talking about an industry with very tight
margins. And when you have in a car fixed prices on automotive
parts that result in higher manufacturing costs, you don't have
any problems getting the attention of the victims," he said.
GM was one of several car makers that said it was watching
the probe closely.
"We are greatly concerned by the large number of suppliers
in the automotive supplier sector who have pled guilty to
serious criminal price fixing charges," said GM spokesman Tom
Henderson. "This evidences a culture of anti-competitive
activity among a cross section of suppliers in the automotive
sector ... This is unacceptable."
Among the companies that the Justice Department's Antitrust
Division settled with previously were Autoliv Inc, Tokai
Rika Co Ltd, TRW Deutschland Holding GmbH,
Nippon Seiki Co Ltd, Furukawa Electric Co Ltd
and Fujikura Ltd.