WASHINGTON – The U.S. Justice Department said Thursday that Bridgestone Corp. has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $425 million criminal fine for its role in a price-fixing conspiracy for anti-vibration rubber parts for automobiles sold in the United States and elsewhere.
It is believed to be the second-biggest fine related to cartel charges ever slapped on a Japanese company in the U.S.
In violation of the U.S. antitrust law, the firm engaged in the conspiracy “to allocate sales of, to rig bids for, and to fix, raise and maintain the prices” of the rubber parts sold to Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., Suzuki Motor Corp., Isuzu Motors Ltd. and their subsidiaries, affiliates and suppliers, according to the department and other sources.
Bridgestone’s involvement in the wrongdoing lasted from at least January 2001 until at least December 2008, the department said.
The anti-vibration rubber parts, which are comprised mainly of rubber and metal, are installed in suspension systems and engine mounts as well as other parts of automobiles.
Including Bridgestone, 26 companies have so far pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty in the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the automotive parts industry, according to the department.
The firms have agreed to pay a total of more than $2 billion in criminal fines. In addition, 28 individuals have been charged.
Among the companies, Yazaki Corp. in 2012 agreed to pay $470 million, the largest U.S. fine ever imposed on a Japanese company over a cartel.
Following the U.S. announcement, Bridgestone said that it will book a special loss of ¥44.79 billion in the business year that ended last December. But the company will not revise its earnings estimates for the year.
As in-house penalties for the price-fixing fine, all members of the company’s board and some of its corporate officers will decline to receive bonuses scheduled to be paid in March.
In addition, representative board members and some corporate officers will have their monthly compensation cut by 50 percent and 25 percent, respectively, for six months, Bridgestone said.
In 2011, Bridgestone paid a $28 million fine to the Justice Department for price fixing for marine hoses used to transfer crude oil from tankers to storage facilities.
At the time, however, the company did not disclose that it had also participated in the anti-vibration rubber parts conspiracy, according to the department. Bridgestone’s failure to disclose this conspiracy was a factor in determining the $425 million fine this time, the department said.