DETROIT—Japan's Sanden Corp. has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $3.2 million fine for conspiring to price fix air conditioning systems sold to Nissan, joining a list of 32 other companies that have been charged in the U.S. Department of Justice's ongoing price fixing investigation into the auto supply chain.
In documents filed this week by federal prosecutors in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Sanden was charged with one count of conspiracy to restrain trade for scheming to price fix compressors sold to Nissan North America, according to court documents.
The Sanden case is the latest action in the largest antitrust prosecution in U.S. history. Similar investigations also have been under way in Canada, Europe and Asia.
“Today's charge is the latest in the Antitrust Division's ongoing investigation of automobile parts suppliers,” Brent Snyder, deputy assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division's criminal enforcement program, said in a statement. “The division continues to vigorously prosecute companies and individuals that seek to maximize their profits through illegal, anticompetitive means.”
Sanden and its co-conspirator met to discuss bids and price quotes sent to Nissan, court documents said. The company participated in the conspiracy from at least as early as August 2008 until at least April 2009, aiming to “suppress and eliminate competition” by fixing, stabilizing and maintaining the prices of Nissan's compressors.
Nissan did not have a comment on the case.
Sanden, which maintains a regional operation in suburban Detroit, said in a statement: "The company decided to enter into the plea agreement upon consideration of the relevant facts and circumstances ...”
"In response to the situation, the company has taken measures to ensure full compliance with all relevant laws and regulations on an ongoing basis throughout its global organization."
Companies convicted of price fixing can face maximum penalties of $100 million, under federal antitrust law, known as the Sherman Act, the government said. According to the act, the maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the maximum $100 million penalty.
Including Sanden, 33 companies and 50 individuals have been charged in the Justice department's price fixing and bid rigging investigation of the automotive industry, the justice department said.
The companies charged have each agreed to plead guilty and to pay a combined total of more than $2.4 billion in fines.
Among the other auto suppliers implicated in the ongoing scandal: Takata Corp., Denso Corp., Autoliv Inc., Tokai Rika Co., TRW Deutschland Holding GmbH, Nippon Seiki Co., Furukawa Electric Co. and Fujikura Ltd.