Japanese auto suppliers to pay U.S. fines

WASHINGTON — Two Japanese auto suppliers, both of which have operations in Central Kentucky, 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. auto makers, 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 and two who work in Lexington, 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.

"The conduct had also affected commerce on a global scale in almost every market where automobiles are manufactured and/or sold," Andrew Arena, the FBI's special agent in charge, said in a statement.

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 units that control electronic systems and the temperature inside the vehicle from the center console.

Because the investigation is ongoing, the Justice Department would not comment on which automakers were affected by the conspiracy, how many models were affected and how much the price-fixing scheme inflated vehicle prices. But Sharis Pozen, acting head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, said there was no doubt that consumers were hurt financially.

The four Yazaki executives include Ryoji Kawai, director of Toyota Sales of Yazaki North America in Lexington and vice division head of Yazaki's Toyota Business Unit in Japan, 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.

The other executives are Tsuneaki Hanamura, a branch manager at Yazaki North America in Columbus, Ohio, and a Honda division sales manager in Japan; and 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.

Hanamura and Kawai each have agreed to serve two years, and Ogawa and Takada each have agreed to serve 15 months. Each of the four also has agreed to pay a $20,000 criminal fine.