Nine Japanese auto companies and two other company executives agreed Thursday to plead guilty to charges of fixing prices of some 30 types of auto parts sold in the United States, the latest move in one of the most extensive antitrust investigations ever conducted by the Justice Department. The companies’ payment will total $740 million in criminal fines.
The announcement results from an ongoing investigation by the department’s antitrust division, in which 20 companies and 21 executives have been charged with price-fixing and bid-rigging in the auto parts industry and faced more than $1.5 billion in fines. The first charges in this investigation were made in 2011.
Among those settling with the U.S. government were Hitachi Automotive Systems Ltd., fined $195 million; Mitsubishi Electric Corp. (MELCO), fined $190 million; Mitsuba Corp., fined $135 million; and JTEKT Corp., fined $103.27 million.
Scott Hammond of the Department of Justice’s antitrust division criminal enforcement program told reporters that some of the illegal activities committed went on for more than a decade.
“As we have uncovered each auto part conspiracy, we have continued to find more and more parts that are involved. And our work isn’t done,” said Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., who attended the news conference where the pleas were announced.
Because of collusion between suppliers, U.S. car giants Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, as well as foreign rivals Mazda, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Toyota, Subaru were sold automobile parts, including seat belts, radiators, windshield wipers, air conditioning systems, power window motors and power steering components, at inflated prices.
“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,” Mr. Holder said.
Most of the companies and executives involved in Thursday’s plea did so by coordinating secret meetings and telephone calls in the U.S. and Japan to create illegal agreements that would skew prices and bids in the auto industry.
“Today’s charges should send a message to companies who believe they don’t need to follow the rules,” said Ronald T. Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Division. “If you violate the laws of this country, the FBI will investigate and put a stop to the threat you pose to our commercial system. The integrity of our markets is a part of the foundation of a free society.”
The Justice Department is working with the Japanese Fair Trade Commission, European Commission, Canadian Competition Commission and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to unravel the full extent of the fraud.
Seventeen of the 21 executives charged so far have been sentenced to serve prison terms in the U.S. or have plea agreements calling for significant time behind bars.