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EU antitrust regulators raid Faurecia, Tenneco, car exhaust suppliers

UPDATED: 3/25/14 1:07 pm ET - adds Tenneco disclosure

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- European Union antitrust regulators raided French car parts maker Faurecia, U.S.-based supplier Tenneco Inc., and several auto exhaust systems makers today in the latest crackdown against suspected price-fixing in the global auto industry.

The European Commission said the companies may have taken part in a cartel and abused their dominance. It did not name the companies nor the countries where the raids took place, in line with its usual policy.

But Faurecia, which is 52-percent owned by PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, confirmed the EU raids and said it is cooperating fully with the authorities. It said the company's "strict code of ethics" forbids price-fixing or any other breaches of competition law.

Tenneco, based in suburban Chicago, also said regulators in Europe and the United States asked for information "as part of an ongoing global antitrust investigation concerning multiple automotive suppliers." The company said European Commission officials were at Tenneco GmbH’s Edenkoben, Germany, office gathering information for the probe.

"Tenneco has also received a related subpoena from the U.S. Department of Justice," the company said in a statement today.

"The company is fully cooperating with the authorities and cannot comment further due to the ongoing investigation," the statement said. "Tenneco’s values and Code of Conduct are foundational elements for how the company conducts business. All Tenneco employees are expected to exemplify these values and strictly adhere to the Code of Conduct, which requires operating in an ethical manner and according to all laws and regulations including practicing fair and open competition."

German exhaust system maker Eberspaecher also said it was cooperating with EU authorities.

The raids do not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behavior, the Commission said in a statement.

Regulators in the United States, Japan, Europe and Canada have levied multi-dollar fines in recent years against car parts makers for fixing prices of products ranging from seatbelts, radiators and windshield wipers to air-conditioning systems.

In the United States, the ongoing probe by the Justice Department's anti-trust unit has resulted in the prosecution of 29 executives and 26 companies -- and fines of more than $2.25 billion. The latest prosecution was announced a month ago.

The European Commission can fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU rules. It is investigating cartels involving more than 100 car parts by more than 70 automakers.

Earlier this month it hit German engineering group Schaeffler, Sweden's SKF and three Japanese car parts makers with a total 953.3-million-euro fine for taking part in a ball bearings cartel.

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