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Panasonic to Pay $56.5 Million in Parts Price-Fixing Plea

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July 18 (Bloomberg) -- Panasonic Corp. and its Sanyo Electric Co. unit agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to fix prices of car parts and batteries and pay $56.5 million in criminal fines, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Panasonic, based in Osaka, Japan, agreed to pay $45.8 million for its role in the conspiracy, while Sanyo agreed to pay $10.7 million, the Justice Department said in an e-mailed statement today. Seoul-based LG Chem Ltd. also agreed to plead guilty and pay a $1.1 million criminal fine for price fixing involving battery cells, the department said.

“Pleading guilty and cooperating with the division’s ongoing investigations is a necessary step in changing a corporate culture that turned customers into price-fixing victims,” said Scott Hammond, deputy assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program.

Panasonic agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to rig bids and fix prices for switches for steering wheels, turn signals and windshield wipers, among other parts sold to Toyota Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc., according to the statement. The price-fixing conspiracy lasted from at least September 2003 to February 2010, the Justice Department said.

Panasonic also agreed to plead guilty to conspiring from at least July 1998 to February 2010 to fix prices of automotive electrical ballasts sold to companies including Honda Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co., the department said.

The pleas by Sanyo and LG Chem are the first in the Justice Department’s investigation into anticompetitive conduct in the market for cylindrical lithium ion battery cells, which are used in notebook computer battery packs, according to the statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Forden in Washington at sforden@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net