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Civil settlements for price fixing rise

Civil settlements have exceeded $270 million in federal litigation stemming from the ongoing U.S. criminal antitrust investigation into automotive supplier price fixing.

In the latest criminal case, Japan's Yamada Manufacturing Co. agreed to pay a $2.5 million fine and plead guilty to a single felony count of fixing the prices of steering columns sold to Honda Motor Co., the U.S. Justice Department said last week.

"Yamada's collusion deprived Honda and its U.S. customers the benefits of freely set prices for manual steering columns, a simple but necessary auto part," Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department's antitrust division said in a statement.

Yamada's plea brings to 35 the number of companies that have pleaded guilty in the U.S. to conspiring to fix the prices of a broad range of auto parts and to pay more than $2.5 billion in fines.

On the civil-suit front, U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani last month gave preliminary approval to a deal for TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. and German affiliate TRW Deutschland Holding GmbH to settle for $8 million with direct purchaser plaintiffs, which are other auto companies that allegedly bought components at colluded prices.

Since February, Hitachi Automotive Systems and Panasonic Corp. have also agreed to pay nearly $83 million combined to settle with dealership and consumer plaintiffs.

TRW previously agreed to pay $7.1 million to dealerships and consumers in settlements late last year.

The new settlement resolves litigation for three major classes of plaintiffs. By the end of 2014, suppliers including TRW, Lear Corp., Autoliv Inc., Nippon Seiki Co. and others had agreed to more than $187 million of combined settlements.

Allegations of global supplier price fixing dating back to at least 2000 first drew public attention after the FBI in February 2010 hit the suburban Detroit offices of Yazaki North America, Denso Corp. and Tokai Rika Group North America in a series of raids.

The Japan Fair Trade Commission also around the same time raided the offices of Furukawa Electric Co.

In addition to the criminal fines, the civil litigation has yielded additional financial settlements from around the U.S. on behalf of classes of automakers, dealerships and the businesses and consumers who bought cars with parts made at alleged colluded prices. Some government agencies and trucking companies are also plaintiffs.

You can reach Chad Halcom at chalcom@crain.com

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