Auto parts price-fixing probe expands into product segments

The U.S. Justice Department initially confirmed it was conducting a price-fixing investigation in February 2010  It is working with antitrust officials in Japan and Europe on the probe.

A wide-ranging probe of price fixing in a variety of car parts has expanded to additional product segments not yet disclosed, a top U.S. Department of Justice official said.

“The investigation is broader than what we’ve announced so far,” Scott Hammond, deputy assistant attorney general in the antitrust division, told reporters on Friday. He declined to provide further detail or predict when the probe would close.

“It’s still very much ongoing, but it already appears to be the biggest criminal antitrust investigation that we’ve ever encountered,” Hammond said. “I say (it is) the biggest with respect to the impact on U.S. business and consumers, and the number of companies and executives that are subject to the investigation.”

These nine auto parts manufacturers have pleaded guilty; Tokai Rika, Autoliv, TRW Deutschland Holding, Nippon Seiki, Fujikura, Furukawa Electric, Denso, Yazaki and G.S. Electech .

Twelve people have pleaded guilty and 10, all from Japan, have surrendered to U.S. jurisdiction and are serving jail terms of one to two years, he said.

Hammond also said the investigation, which involves billions of dollars in commerce, could expand to new companies. “The investigation has grown in terms of the discovery of additional wrongdoing affecting additional products,” he told reporters.

The U.S. Justice Department has imposed $809 million in fines to date, including $470 million against Yazaki, Hammond said during a speech to the State Bar of Michigan.

Hammond said automakers have cooperated in the probe, but he declined to provide further detail.