WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Japanese auto suppliers have agreed to pay more than half a billion dollars in criminal fines for a price-fixing conspiracy in the sale of parts to U.S. automakers, the Justice Department announced Monday.
Yazaki Corp. agreed to pay a $470 million fine, the second-largest criminal fine obtained for a Sherman Act antitrust violation. The second company, DENSO Corp., agreed to pay a $78 million fine. Four Yazaki executives, all Japanese citizens, will serve up to two years in U.S. prison as part of the deal to plead guilty to one felony count.
Court documents filed in federal court in Detroit say the executives sold automotive electrical components to automakers in the United States and elsewhere at inflated prices. The Justice Department says they met to monitor and enforce adherence to the bid-rigging and price-fixing scheme from at least January 2000 through February 2010.
"This criminal activity has a significant impact on the automotive manufacturers in the United States, Canada, Japan and Europe and had been occurring at least a decade," the FBI's Special Agent in Charge Andrew Arena said in a statement. "The conduct had also affected commerce on a global scale in almost every market where automobiles are manufactured and/or sold."
It was not immediately clear how many automakers were affected by the conspiracy, how many models were affected and how much the price-fixing scheme inflated parts prices.
Prosecutors say Yazaki's bid rigging included automotive wire harnesses used to direct and control a vehicle's electronic components, instrument panel clusters that drivers use on the dashboard to gauge vehicle performance and fuel senders that measure the amount of gas in the tank. DENSO's alleged price-fixing involved electronic control units that control electronic systems and heater control panels that control temperature inside the vehicle from the center console.
The two-year sentences against the executives would be the longest term of imprisonment ever imposed on a foreign national voluntarily submitting to U.S. jurisdiction for a Sherman Act antitrust violation, the Justice Department said.
The executives are Tsuneaki Hanamura, a branch manager at Yazaki North America in Columbus, Ohio, and a Honda division sales manager in Japan; Ryoji Kawai, director of Toyota Sales of Yazaki North America in Lexington, Ky., and vice division head of Yazaki's Toyota Business Unit in Japan; Shigeru Ogawa, assistant section manager and later section manager in Yazaki's Honda Business Unit in Japan and branch manager in Yazaki's Honda Sales Unit and later director at Yazaki North America in Columbus; and Hisamitsu Takada, assistant manager in Yazaki's Toyota Business Unit, director of Yazaki North America in Lexington, and manager of a sales department of Yazaki's Toyota Business Unit in Japan.
Hanamura and Kawai have each agreed to serve two years, and Ogawa and Takada have each agreed to serve 15 months. Each of the four has also agreed to pay a $20,000 criminal fine.
The charges are part of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into bid rigging, price fixing and other anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry. In November, Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd. pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a $200 million fine for its role in the wire harnesses price-fixing and bid-rigging conspiracy. Three Furukawa executives also pleaded guilty and serve prison terms in the United States.