FURTHER FINES IN US JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PROBE INTO AUTO INDUSTRY

The US Justice DepartDoJment announced on 16 July 2013 that Japanese company Diamond Electric Manufacturing (Diamond Electric) has agreed to plead guilty and pay a USD19 million fine for fixing the prices of ignition coils in cars sold in the United States. Takayoshi Matsunaga, an executive from the Swedish company Autoliv, has also agreed to plead guilty in relation to price fixing of seat belts sold to Toyota for installation in cars made and sold in the United States.

Diamond Electric, which has agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, is the tenth auto-parts maker to plead guilty in the Justice Department’s long-running investigation into price fixing, bid-rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry. The cartel ran from July 2003 to February 2010 and this is the first case in the investigation involving parts sold directly to a company headquartered in the United States – Ford. Parts were also sold to Toyota and Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company of Subaru.

Diamond Electric has apologised for its conduct and has stated that it has created a compliance programme and introduced strict new policies relating to pricing activities to ensure that there is no repeat of the anticompetitive behaviour.

Matsunaga, a Japanese national, has been handed a prison sentence of one year and day and a USD20,000 fine. He is the fifteenth executive to plead guilty during the probe. Autoliv itself agreed to plead guilty in June 2012 and was fined USD14.5 million. Felony counts have now been filed in relation to price fixing in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, and both agreements are subject to court approval.

To date the investigation has cost the ten companies and fifteen executives USD828 million in criminal fines. Investigations into price fixing of parts in the automotive industry are also underway in Europe, Australia, Korea, Japan and Canada. On 10 July 2013, the EU Competition Commission fined four wire harness suppliers a total of EU141.8 million for taking part in cartels that covered the whole European Economic Area.

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About Michael O'Kane

Michael O’Kane is a partner and Head of the Business Crime team at leading UK firm Peters & Peters. Described as ‘first-rate’ (Legal 500 2012), he “draws glowing praise from commentators” (Chambers 2013) for handling the international aspects of business crime, including sanctions, extradition and mutual legal assistance. Called to the Bar in 1992 and prior to joining Peters & Peters he was a senior specialist prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service Headquarters(CPS). At CPS HQ he was a key member of a small specialist unit responsible for the prosecution of serious and high profile fraud, terrorist and special interest criminal matters including the Stansted Airport Afghan hijacking and the prosecution of Paul Burrell (Princess Diana’s butler). Michael joined Peters & Peters in 2002. He became a partner in May 2004, and Head of the Business Crime team in May 2009. Since joining Peters & Peters, Michael has dealt with a wide range of business crime matters. He has particular expertise in international sanctions, criminal cartels, extradition, corruption, mutual legal assistance, and FSA investigations. Described as“ an influential practitioner in fraud and regulatory work, so much so that he is top of the referral lists of many City firms for independent advice for directors” (The Lawyer’s Hot 100 2009), he was recognised as one of the UK’s most innovative lawyers in the 2011 FT Innovative Lawyer Awards and included in the list of the UK's leading lawyers in 'The International Who's Who of Asset Recovery 2012. In 2012 he was the winner of the Global Competition Review Article of the Year. Michael regularly appears on television and radio to discuss his specialist areas and he is the author of the leading textbook on the UK Criminal Cartel Offence “The Law of Criminal Cartels-Practice and Procedure” (Oxford University Press 2009). Recent/Current Sanctions Work • Representing 109 individuals and 12 companies subject to designation by the European Council under targeted measures imposed against Zimbabwe. This is the largest and most complex collective challenge to a sanctions listing ever brought before the European Court. • Acting for a former Egyptian Minister and his UK resident wife, challenging their designation by the European Council of Ministers under targeted measures brought against former members of the Egyptian Government. • Advising a company accused in a UN investigation report to have breached UN sanctions imposed in relation to Somalia. • Advising a UK company in relation to ongoing commercial relationships with an Iranian company listed under both EU and UN sanctions. • Advising an individual in relation to a UK investigation for alleging breaching nuclear export controls.

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