Bridgestone executives indicted for auto parts price fixing

One former exec agrees to guilty plea

UPDATED: 4/16/14 5:02 pm ET - adds guilty plea today

CLEVELAND (Bloomberg) -- One current Bridgestone Corp. executive and two who formerly worked for the Japanese tire company have been indicted by a U.S. grand jury in Cleveland for allegedly conspiring to fix automotive-part prices.

The charges stem from an ongoing U.S. Justice Department investigation of price fixing in the auto-parts industry, that according to the agency has so far netted more than $2.29 billion in fines. As of today, 33 people have been charged, and 26 companies have either pleaded guilty or agreed to do so, the department said.

Similar investigations also have been ongoing in Europe and Asia.

“Today’s indictment again demonstrates that antitrust violations are not just corporate offenses but also crimes by individuals,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brent Snyder said in a statement on Tuesday.

Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. agreed to plead guilty and pay a $120 million fine for similar allegations in November. Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Hitachi Automotive Systems and seven other Japanese companies in September agreed to pay $740 million in fines for conspiring to fix parts prices for car companies including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.

The Bridgestone executives are accused of taking part in a scheme to allocate sales and fix prices for automotive anti-vibration rubber products, used in suspension systems and engine mounts, according to the single-count indictment charging them with conspiracy to restrain trade.

Suppress competition

The objective of the plot was to “suppress and eliminate competition” in the industry, according to the indictment.

Bridgestone, in a statement today, said it has been cooperating in the probe since being informed of it in May 2012.The company became aware "that certain employees had engaged in certain acts in violation of U.S. antitrust laws from 2001 to 2008," the statement said, adding that the company is confident the activities ceased in 2008.

"In order to reestablish the trust of its customers and the many communities in which it does business, the Bridgestone Group will redouble its efforts to ensure full compliance with all relevant laws and regulations through enhanced education, training and regular internal reviews and assessments," the statement said. "BSJ will take appropriate disciplinary action against certain responsible employees in accordance with applicable corporate standards."

Bridgestone sold its rubber products to Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., maker of Subaru-brand cars. The Tokyo-based tire company in February agreed to pay a $425 million fine and plead guilty to a charge it conspired to fix prices.

Current Bridgestone manager Yoshiyuki Tanaka, and former employees Yasuo Ryuto and Isao Yoshida were indicted Tuesday with the charges filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo, Ohio. Each man faces as long as 10 years’ imprisonment if convicted, and a fine of as much as $1 million.

Another executive

Meanwhile, another former Bridgestone executive agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for anti-vibration rubber automotive parts, the U.S. Department of Justice announced today.

Yusuke Shimasaki will plead guilty, pay a $20,000 fine and serve 18 months in prison under the plea agreement, the department’s anti-trust division said. He is the 33rd individual to plead guilty in the U.S. in a wide-ranging and ongoing auto parts price fixing investigation.

The Justice Department said Shimasaki allegedly conspired with others to allocate sales and rig bids for anti-vibration parts sold for Toyota, Nissan and Subaru vehicles, among others, between 2001 and 2008. During that period, he was a sales manager, an executive vice president at Bridgestone APM Co., in Findlay, Ohio, and a general sales manager for the company.

A spokeswoman confirmed that Shimasaki worked previously for Bridgestone but no longer does. She declined further comment on his case.

Larry Vellequette and Philip Nussel contributed to this story.

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