The Fair Trade Commission filed a criminal complaint Thursday against three bearing makers and seven of their senior officials for their alleged involvement in a price-fixing cartel in violation of the antimonopoly law.
Following the complaint, filed with the prosecutor general, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office plans to indict the three companies — NSK Ltd., NTN Corp. and Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp. — and the officials, who will not be arrested.
It is the first criminal complaint filed by the FTC since it cracked down on a price-fixing cartel for galvanized steel plates in 2008.
In addition to the three companies, JTekt Corp. has also been investigated by the FTC over the suspected collusion. But the antitrust watchdog exempted JTekt from the criminal complaint under a leniency program, after the company voluntarily confessed to the wrongdoing.
According to the FTC, the three companies named in the complaint agreed to raise the prices of bearings for industrial machinery by 8-10 percent after senior officials held a series of meetings from May to August 2010.
NSK and NTN are also suspected of having agreed in July 2010 to increase the prices of bearings used in vehicles by some ¥20 per kilogram.
The three firms have raised bearing prices five times since 2004, and the FTC believes they formed a price-fixing cartel each time. The FTC’s Criminal Investigation Department raided the trio and JTekt last July and has since questioned people involved.
The commission decided to bring the case to prosecutors after concluding the unfair costs consumers had to shoulder as a result of the anticompetitive price hikes were enormous in view of the sheer size of the bearing market, estimated at over ¥400 billion annually, sources said.
In addition, it believes the culture of collusion is ingrained in the bearing industry, which was slapped with penalties for price cartels in the past, according to the sources.