GM Suppliers in Japan Guilty in $5 Billion Cartel Case

Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Hitachi Automotive Systems Ltd. and seven other Japanese companies agreed to plead guilty and pay a total of $740 million in fines for a price-fixing conspiracy targeting automakers that included General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co.

Chrysler Group LLC and Toyota Motor Corp. were also among car companies operating in the U.S. that faced inflated costs on more than $5 billion of parts, affecting prices on at least 25 million vehicles, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a news conference yesterday in Washington.

“The conduct this investigation uncovered involved more than a dozen separate conspiracies aimed at the U.S. economy,” Holder said.

The announcement brings criminal fines in the Justice Department’s continuing probe of price fixing in the auto-parts industry to more than $1.6 billion and the number of companies and individuals charged to 20 and 21 respectively, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Seventeen of the 21 executives have been sentenced to jail in the U.S. or have entered into plea agreements calling for “significant” prison sentences, Holder said. Two of them were charged yesterday.

“The breadth of the conspiracies brought to light today are as egregious as they are pervasive,” said Scott Hammond, a deputy assistant attorney general who worked on the investigation. “They involve more than a dozen separate conspiracies operating independently but all sharing in common that they targeted U.S. automotive manufacturers.”

‘Significant’ Sentences

The executives and companies involved in the price-fixing cartels used code names and attended meetings in remote locations to hide their conduct, the Justice Department said.

U.S. criminal antitrust fines amounted to $1.14 billion in 2012, according to figures on the Justice Department’s antitrust division website.

“We require suppliers to comply with all applicable laws,” said Dion Corbett, a Tokyo-based spokesman for Toyota. The carmaker had no comment on the specific case.

Mark Fields, Ford’s chief operating officer, told reporters in Detroit the company works “very closely with our suppliers, and trust is very important to us. That’s what we value most in our suppliers.”

Parts Penalties

Hitachi Automotive agreed to pay $195 million for fixing prices of starter motors, alternators and air flow meters and timing valves, among other parts, the department said. Mitsubishi Electric agreed to pay $190 million for fixing prices of starter motors, alternators and ignition coils, while Mitsuba Corp. agreed to pay $135 million for rigging prices of windshield washer systems, starter motors and fan motors, among other components.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. agreed to pay a $14.5 million criminal fine for fixing prices of compressors and condensers, while Jtekt Corp., an Osaka-based maker of bearings and steering systems, agreed to a $103.3 million fine.

Mitsuba, a Kiryu, Japan-based manufacturer of car motors, said it will book an extraordinary loss of 13.3 billion yen for the fine in the three months ending Sept. 30, according to a statement.

NSK Ltd., Jtekt and T. RAD Co. Ltd., will also book extraordinary losses in the second quarter for the fine, according to statements from the companies.

Plea Agreements

Hitachi Automotive agreed to pay the fine, the Tokyo-based subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd. said in a statement.

Mitsubishi Heavy also agreed to pay and ordered Masahiko Arihara, executive vice president, and Kiyonobu Toma, executive corporate adviser, to return 20 percent of their pay for two months, according to a statement from the company.

The plea agreements must be accepted by a federal judge to become final.

The Mitsubishi Heavy case is U.S. v. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., 2:13-cr-20711, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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