/

Auto execs face jail for fixing U.S. seat belt prices

AFP-JIJI

Three executives of seat belt supplier Takata Corp. were facing prison Thursday after pleading guilty to a conspiracy to fix prices.

In the latest chapter of a Justice Department probe into the auto parts industry spanning more than a decade, the trio admitted to joining a plot to fix prices for seat belts they sold to Japanese automakers in the United States.

Yasuhiko Ueno, Saborou Imamiya and Yoshinobu Fujino agreed to serve prison sentences of 14 to 19 months, the Justice Department said.

The case, filed in the federal district court in Detroit, said the three worked with others to fix seat belt prices from as early as 2004 through 2011.

The guilty pleas came after a similar admission in September by Gary Walker, an executive of TK Holdings, Takata’s U.S. subsidiary. Takata itself admitted guilt in the case last month and was fined $71.3 million.

So far, more than two dozen executives from 21 mostly Japanese companies and their U.S. subsidiaries have been charged in the far-reaching investigation, bringing in more than $1.6 billion in fines. Seventeen have received prison terms.

The probe has embroiled Japanese giants ranging from Hitachi Auto Systems and Jtekt Corp. to Mitsubishi Electric, Mitsuba and NSK, among others.

“The cases filed to date involve conduct affecting over $8 billion in auto parts sold to car manufacturers in the U.S. and parts used in more than 25 million cars purchased by American consumers,” the department said in a report to Congress last week.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department announced the indictments of two executives of an unnamed Japanese supplier of anti-vibration rubber parts for cars and trucks.

It said the two, Masao Hayashi and Kenya Nonoyama, conspired to fix prices of products sold to Japanese automakers in the United States over a 12-year period from 1996.

“Today’s indictment reaffirms the antitrust division’s commitment to hold executives accountable for actions that corrupt the competitive landscape and harm consumers,” said Renata Hesse of the department’s antitrust division.

Company records suggest the two worked for Toyo Tire and Rubber and its U.S. subsidiary, Toyo Automotive Parts, although that could not be independently confirmed.