Denso Executives to Serve Jail Terms in U.S. for Price Fixing

Two executives at Japan’s Denso Corp. agreed to serve U.S. jail terms for conspiring to fix prices of components sold to Toyota Motor Corp. as part of an antitrust probe into the industry, the Justice Department said.

Yuji Suzuki and Hiroshi Watanabe, who worked at Denso’s Toyota sales division, agreed to plead guilty for their roles and serve prison terms of 16 months and 15 months, respectively, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement yesterday. Both agreed to pay fines of $20,000 each, according to the statement.

The price-fixing probe into the industry has resulted in 14 executives and nine companies pleading guilty in the U.S., and more than $809 million in criminal fines. Auto-parts makers have been under investigation in the U.S., the European Union and Japan since 2010, with Japanese companies receiving the biggest penalties.

“We take the decision seriously,” said Goro Kanemasu, a spokesman for Kariya, Japan-based Denso, which last year pleaded guilty and drew a $78 million fine. “We’re asking all our employees once again to abide by antitrust laws.”

Denso is Japan’s largest auto-parts maker and the biggest supplier of components to Toyota, which in turn is the world’s biggest carmaker. Denso declined to make the executives available for comment.

“One of Toyota’s basic principles is to strictly follow the letter and spirit of laws inside and outside Japan and to operate in an open and fair manner,” said Dion Corbett, a Tokyo-based spokesman at Toyota. “We require our suppliers to thoroughly comply with all laws and regulations, including antitrust laws.”

Rigging Bids

Suzuki is accused in a criminal information filed yesterday in federal court in Detroit of conspiring to rig bids and fix prices of electronic control units and heater control panels sold to Toyota from as early as 2005 until 2008, according to the Justice Department statement. Watanabe is charged with one count of conspiring to rig bids and fixing prices of heater control panels sold to Toyota from at least 2008 until 2010, according to the criminal information filed against him.

“The conspirators reached agreements to fix prices and allocate bids, and took measures such as using code names and meeting in secret to cover their tracks,” said Scott D. Hammond, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program. “Cracking down on international price-fixing cartels that target U.S. businesses and consumers has been, and will continue to be, among the top priorities for the Antitrust Division.”

Denso fell 1.4 percent to 4,835 yen at 1:12 p.m. in Tokyo trading, while the benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average rose 1.2 percent.

The cases are U.S. v. Suzuki, 13-cr-20382, and U.S. v. Watanabe, 13-cr-20381, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).

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