DETROIT, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- A Japanese auto parts firm agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to fix heater control panel prices and pay a $17.7 million fine, the U.S. government said.
The case against Tokai Rika Co. in Nagoya relates to heater controlled panels installed in cars sold in the United States and elsewhere, the U.S. Justice Department said on its website.
Tokai Rika also agreed to plead guilty to a charge of obstruction of justice concerning the investigation of the antitrust violation, the DOJ said.
Charges filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit said Tokai Rika engaged in a conspiracy, by agreeing during meetings and conversations, to rig bids for, and to fix, stabilize and maintain the prices of heater control panels sold to Toyota in the United States and elsewhere, on a model-by-model basis. Court documents allege Tokai Rika and its co-conspirators carried out the scheme from September 2003 until at least February 2010.
"The conspirators used code names and chose meeting places and times to avoid detection," said Scott Hammond, deputy assistant attorney general of the Antitrust Division's criminal enforcement program. "They knew their actions would harm American consumers, and attempted to cover it up when caught. The division will continue to hold accountable companies who engage in anti-competitive conduct and who obstruct law enforcement."
The department said as part of a plea agreement, which is subject to court approval, Tokai Rika agreed to cooperate with its investigation.
Tokai Rika said on its website it along with its North American subsidiary, Tram Inc., have cooperated fully with the investigation and that after considering applicable laws and relevant facts it was "decided to enter into the plea agreement and that it will continue to cooperate" with the investigation.
The company also said the fine will have no material effect on its financial forecast for fiscal ending March 31, 2013, adding the payment was recorded as an extraordinary loss for the second quarter.
The company also said since learning of the DOJ investigation it has incorporated various measures, including implementing even more stringent compliance rules" to further ensure its employees comply with all applicable antitrust laws to prevent any similar violation the future.
The Justice Department said besides Tokai Rika, eight other companies and 11 executives have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty in its ongoing investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the auto parts industry, which so far has resulted in imposition of more than $790 million in fines.