Former Denso exec to plead guilty to price-fixing coverup charge

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DETROIT -- A former Denso Corp. executive is expected to serve one year and one day in a U.S. prison after agreeing to plead guilty to one charge of obstruction of justice in the federal government's ongoing price-fixing investigation of auto suppliers.

Between February 2010 and March 2010, Kazuaki Fujitani was general manager of Denso's Toyota sales division when he deleted "numerous e-mails and electronic documents" after learning that the FBI executed a search warrant on Denso's U.S. subsidiary near Detroit in Southfield, Mich., the Department of Justice said in a statement. The felony charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $250,000 criminal fine, was filed today in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

The files Fujitani deleted -- from Aug. 1, 2009 to Jan. 4, 2010 -- showed communications between Denso and one or more its competitors about "requests for quotation" made by Toyota for the heater control panel of the Toyota Avalon, according to a court document. Toyota owns about a 22 percent stake in Denso.

The Japanese supplier pleaded guilty in March 2012 and was ordered to pay a $78 million criminal fine for price-fixing its heater control panels and electronic control units.

"We take this matter very seriously," Denso said in a statement today. "As per the plea agreement made between the U.S. Department of Justice and DENSO on Jan. 30, 2012, we've been fully cooperating with the DOJ investigation. We have been taking various measures to further ensure our employees comply with all applicable antitrust laws."

Fujitani is one of 29 executives who have been charged in the investigation, which is being handled by the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust arm and the FBI. So far, 26 companies have pleaded guilty or agreed to do so with more than $2.25 billion in fines, according to the Department of Justice.

Similar investigations have been under way in Canada, Europe and Asia.

"Today's charge demonstrates the Antitrust Division's commitment to protecting the integrity of grand jury investigations," said Brent Snyder, deputy assistant attorney general of the Antitrust Division's criminal enforcement program, in the statement. "The division will vigorously prosecute individuals who destroy evidence in an attempt to conceal their participation in illegal conspiracies."

Denso ranks No. 2 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers, with estimated worldwide sales to automakers of $34.2 billion in its 2012 fiscal year.

You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com. -- Follow Vince on Twitter


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