China levies record $200 million in fines on 12 Japan suppliers

Photo credit: Bloomberg

TOKYO (Bloomberg) -- China has found 12 Japanese suppliers guilty of price fixing and given them a record 1.24 billion yuan ($200 million) in fines amid one of the broadest investigations since the nation's antitrust law came into effect six years ago.

Eight Japanese auto-parts makers and four bearings manufacturers were found guilty of collusive behavior, with Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd. and Yazaki Corp. drawing the heaviest fines, according to the National Development and Reform Commission, China's main economic planner, in a statement on its website.

The investigations were part of a broader probe into pricing practices in the auto industry, which has led at least seven automakers to cut prices and raised concern that foreign businesses are being picked on.

Denso Corp., Aisan Industry Co. and NSK Ltd. were among companies found guilty as regulatory scrutiny tightens in the world's second-largest economy.

The rest of the companies named in the NDRC statement are: Hitachi Automotive Systems Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Mitsuba Corp., Furukawa Electric Co., Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp., Jtekt Corp. and NTN Corp.

Separate antitrust investigations have prosecuted numerous Japanese auto suppliers in the U.S. and Europe. Japan's NGK Spark Plug on Tuesday agreed to pay a $52.1 million fine and plead guilty to a felony charge for its role in fixing the prices of spark plugs and other parts in the U.S. 

Over the course of the multiyear U.S. investigation, 28 companies and 26 executives have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty in the probe, and agreed to pay $2.4 billion of criminal fines, the Justice Department said Tuesday. It was not clear if Chinese regulators took any ques from the U.S. probe. 

"China's NDRC used to be a sleeping tiger," said Akira Moriwaki, the chief representative in Shanghai at the law firm of Anderson Mori & Tomotsune. "Over the years, it has accumulated experience, and antitrust cases targeting international companies will only grow from now on."

Two companies escape fines

The investigations covered the period from January 2000 to February 2010 for the parts makers, and 2000 to June 2011 for the bearings makers.

Hitachi and Nachi-Fujikoshi were exempted from penalties as they took the initiative to report the monopoly agreement and provided evidence to the authorities, the NDRC said.

The auto components involved in the price fixing were used in more than 20 models manufactured by Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Co., according to the statement.

Japan Auto Parts Industries Association spokesman Norio Tanaka declined to comment on the NDRC fines because they involve activities of individual companies.

Automotive News contributed to this report.

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