A further Yazaki executive has agreed to plead guilty for his role in a conspiracy to fix prices of instrument panel clusters, installed in cars sold in the US and elsewhere, the Department of Justice has announced.

He is the 11th executive to be charged in the government’s ongoing investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the auto parts industry.

In a one-count felony charge filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, Toshio Sudo, a Japanese national, was charged with engaging in a conspiracy to rig bids for, and to fix, stabilise and maintain the prices of instrument panel clusters.

According to the charge, Sudo’s involvement in the conspiracy lasted from at least as early as January 2003 until at least February 2009. The department said Sudo and his co-conspirators carried out the conspiracy by agreeing, during meetings and conversations, to allocate the supply of instrument panel clusters and sold the parts at non-competitive prices to automakers.

According to the plea agreement, which is subject to court approval, Sudo has agreed to serve 14 months in a US prison, pay a US$20,000 criminal fine and to cooperate with the department’s investigation.

According to the charge, Sudo and his co-conspirators carried out the conspiracy by, among other things, agreeing during meetings and discussions to coordinate bids submitted to, and price adjustments requested by, automobile manufacturers.

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“From using code names with one another, to meeting in remote or private locations, the conspirators employed a variety of measures to keep their illegal conduct secret,” said the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement programme deputy assistant attorney general, Scott Hammond.

“The division and its law enforcement partners will continue to do everything in our power to detect these cartels and bring them to justice.”

For his part, FBI Detroit Field Office special agent, Robert Foley, said: “The conspiracies to fix prices and rig bids in the automotive industry represent a serious crime against the US.

“Car makers and car buyers pay the price for these illegal activities. “The FBI is committed to vigorously pursuing and stopping those who commit these crimes.”

Including Sudo, seven companies and 11 executives have been charged in the department’s ongoing investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the auto parts industry.

Furukawa Electric Co, Denso, Yazaki, GS Electech, Fujikura and Autoliv, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to pay a total of more than US$785m in criminal fines. TRW Deutschland Holding has agreed to plead guilty.

Additionally, seven of the individuals – Junichi Funo, Hirotsugu Nagata, Tetsuya Ukai, Tsuneaki Hanamura, Ryoki Kawai, Shigeru Ogawa and Hisamitsu Takada – have been sentenced to pay criminal fines and to serve jail sentences ranging from a year and a day to two years each. 

Makoto Hattori and Norihiro Imai have pleaded guilty and await sentencing. Kazuhiko Kashimoto is scheduled to plead guilty on 26 Sept.

The prosecution arose from an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s National Criminal Enforcement Section and the FBI’s Detroit Field Office with the assistance of the FBI headquarters’ International Corruption Unit.