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Ex-Bridgestone exec pleads guilty; District court indicts three others in price fixing scheme

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TOLEDO, Ohio—One former Bridgestone Corp. executive has pleaded guilty for his alleged involvement in an international conspiracy to rig bids and fix prices for automotive anti-vibration rubber parts, according to a plea agreement filed in Toledo federal district court April 16.

A day earlier, one current and two other former Bridgestone executives were indicted in the same court for alleged involvement in the same conspiracy, according to the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Yusuke Shimasaki, who served as a sales manager and general sales manager at Bridgestone and as an executive vice president of Bridgestone APM Co. in Findlay, Ohio, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in the plea agreement. If the agreement is accepted by the court, Shimasaki will spend 18 months in a U.S. prison, pay a $20,000 fine and cooperate fully in DOJ's investigation.

The indictment, filed in Toledo, named Yoshiyuki Tanaka, Yasuo Ryuto and Isao Yoshida as participants in the conspiracy, the agency said.

The court actions come two months after Tokyo-based Bridgestone pleaded guilty in Toledo to one felony count of conspiracy to fix prices for rubber anti-vibration parts. No executives were indicted at that time, but Bridgestone agreed to pay a $425 million fine.

The company posted a special loss of $440 million against its 2013 annual financial results because of the fine. It said at the time, and reiterated April 15, that it will take “appropriate disciplinary action” against all employees involved in the conspiracy.

According to the February and April plea agreements and the new indictments, Bridgestone and the individual executives conspired to suppress and eliminate competition in the anti-vibration rubber parts industry by allocating sales, rigging bids and fixing prices for parts sold worldwide to vehicle manufacturers including Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Corp., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., which sells cars under the Subaru brand name.

Tanaka is currently manager of Bridgestone's anti-vibration rubber original equipment international planning section, according to DOJ. Since approximately 1991 Bridgestone has employed Tanaka in various jobs involving anti-vibration rubber parts, including the executive vice presidency of its U.S. subsidiary Bridgestone APM Co.

Ryuto served Bridgestone in various positions involving anti-vibration parts from about 1991 to 2008, and Yoshida did the same from approximately 1997 to 2008, according to the indictment.

Shimasaki, Tanaka, Ryuto, Yoshida and other co-conspirators held meetings and made communications in Japan to fix prices for anti-vibration parts for various car models, DOJ alleges.

The agency specifically named several popular Toyota models: the Tacoma, Camry, Tundra, Sequoia, Corolla, Sienna, Venza and Highlander.

Shimasaki, Ryuto and Yoshida were involved in the conspiracy from about 2001 to 2008, and Tanaka from approximately 2004 to 2008, according to the indictment.

If convicted, Ryuto, Yoshida and Tanaka each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Under the Sherman Act, the fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims if either figure is greater than the maximum fine, DOJ said.

These latest charges are part of an ongoing, multi-year investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the auto parts industry, the largest such investigation ever undertaken by the Antitrust Division. To date, 26 companies have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and agreed to pay fines totaling more than $2.29 billion.

The actions against the four Bridgestone executives bring the number of indicted executives from the allegedly involved companies to 33.

In a statement, Bridgestone said it has cooperated fully with DOJ since it was informed of the investigation in May 2012. It also said it is confident that Bridgestone's involvement in the conspiracy ended in 2008, when the company instituted a global compliance initiative.

“In order to re-establish the trust of its customers and the many communities with which it does business, the Bridgestone Group will redouble its efforts to ensure full compliance with all relevant laws and regulations,” the company said.