Sweden-based auto supplier Autoliv pleaded guilty Wednesday as part of the government's ongoing price-fixing case and agreed to pay a $14.5 million criminal fine, while an executive of Japanese supplier Yazaki also pleaded guilty and will serve 14 months in prison.
Supplier Yazaki previously agreed to pay a $470 million fine. Now executive Kazuhiko Kashimoto will go to a U.S. prison and pay a $20,000 fine.
Autoliv, a maker of airbags, seatbelts and steering wheels with operations in Northern Utah, also has agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
"It is simply unacceptable that we have ended up in this situation in the first place. It goes against everything we stand for," Autoliv CEO Jan Carlson said in a statement. "We have cooperated extensively with the DOJ to investigate and rectify the matter as quickly as possible and, as a result, we have reached an early resolution of our part of this industry-wide investigation."
Autoliv has five plants in Utah. There are two plants in Ogden and one each in Promontory, Tremonton and Brigham City. The company is one of the largest private employers in the state with a workforce of more than 3,000. Worldwide the company employs more than 37,000.
The case, which is the largest antitrust case ever prosecuted in the U.S., has drawn guilty pleas from six companies and 10 individuals. Those pleading guilty include Denso, Furukawa Electric, G.S. Electech and Fujikura.
The Autoliv case is the first involving occupant safety systems; the conspiracies to date had all involved wiring harnesses.
"By meeting in secret and agreeing to allocate the supply of various automotive parts, the conspirators colluded to rip off automotive manufacturers in the United States and abroad," said Scott D. Hammond, deputy assistant attorney general of the Antitrust Division's criminal enforcement program. "These conspiracies eliminated competition and resulted in inflated prices to automotive manufacturers."
A felony charge filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Detroit says Autoliv engaged in conspiracies to rig bids for, and fix prices of seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels sold to automakers in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Court documents say Autoliv's involvement dates back to March 2006 and continued until at least February 2011. A second conspiracy to fix prices of seatbelts lasted from May 2008 to February 2011.
At Yazaki, Kashimoto was among the co-conspirators who rigged prices of automotive wiring harnesses and electronic components. His involvement was from January 2000 until at least September 2007 when he held managed Yazaki's sales to Honda.
Denso, the world's largest supplier, agreed in January to pay a $78 million fine related to wiring harness price-fixing.
Tokyo-based Furukawa Electric previously pleaded guilty and paid $200 million.
There also are a number of civil lawsuits filed by competing suppliers and car buyers who say their costs were artificially inflated by the price fixing.
Justice Department officials have not said which automakers were harmed, but some of the executives charged managed business with Toyota and Honda.
)2012 Detroit Free Press
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