WASHINGTON — A consortium of Japanese companies, including some with operations in Kentucky, used code names and secret meetings to rig bids for dozens of types of auto parts imported to the United States in a decade-long conspiracy that may have cost U.S. consumers hundreds of millions of dollars, U.S. officials announced Thursday.
Unveiling what the Justice Department said is its largest-ever criminal antitrust investigation, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said nine companies had agreed to plead guilty in the case and pay roughly $740 million in fines.
The companies are:
■ Hitachi Automotive Systems Ltd., whose Americas division has plants in Berea and Harrodsburg.
■ Jtekt Corp., which lists Kentucky Advanced Forge in Georgetown as a hub.
■ Mitsuba Corp., whose U.S. division has a plant in Bardstown.
■ Mitsubishi Electric Corp., whose Americas division has a plant in Maysville.
■ T.RAD Co. Ltd., which has a plant in Hopkinsville
■ Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.
■ NSK Ltd., Valeo Japan Co. Ltd., and Yamashita Rubber Co. Ltd.
Two executives, Tetsuya Kunida and Gary Walker, also pleaded guilty, and Walker will face a one-year prison term.
Holder described a massive and complex conspiracy as executives conferred in the United States and Japan, sometimes retreating to "remote locations," to manipulate prices for windshield wipers, radiators, power-window motors and other parts that were sent from overseas to be included in new cars assembled in the United States.
The parts entered the supply chains of almost every major U.S.-based automaker, including Detroit's Big Three and the U.S. subsidiaries of Japanese firms including Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Subaru.
Justice Department officials said they could not estimate how much the conspiracy cost consumers. But they said that over as many as 13 years, it affected prices on more than $5 billion worth of auto parts used in more than 25 million vehicles — or about $200 per car.
Holder described the companies as divided into several "cartels" that "targeted U.S. manufacturing, U.S. businesses and U.S. consumers."