DETROIT -- An executive with supplier Denso Corp. has agreed to serve just over a year in prison and pay a $20,000 fine as part of a plea agreement for his role in rigging bids for heater control panels, the U.S. Department of Justice said today.
Norihiro Imai, a Japanese national, will plead guilty to one felony count of price fixing in U.S. District Court in Detroit and be sentenced to serve one year and one day in a U.S. prison. Along with the fine, Imai has agreed to cooperate in the Justice Department's ongoing price-fixing investigations, the department said.
Investigators say Imai engaged in a conspiracy with unidentified co-conspirators to rig bids and to fix, stabilize and maintain the prices of heater control panels sold in the United States and elsewhere. The alleged conspiracy began as early as August 2006 and lasted until at least June 2009, the department said.
Denso produces a variety of electrical parts, including thermal, powertrain control, electronic and electric systems, small motors and telecommunications. The company, of Kariya, Aichi, Japan, ranks No. 2 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers with estimated worldwide parts sales to automakers of $32.9 billion in fiscal 2010.
Julie Kerr, a U.S. spokeswoman for Denso, said the supplier "takes this matter very seriously" and that the company is "taking various measures to further ensure that our employees comply with all antitrust laws." She declined to say whether Imai was based in the United States or elsewhere and would not comment further.
Including Imai, eight people and three companies have been charged in the government's ongoing investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the auto parts industry. Denso itself pleaded guilty on March 5 and was sentenced to pay a $78 million criminal fine.
Yazaki Corp., another Japanese automotive electrical component supplier, pleaded guilty on March 1, and was sentenced to pay a $470 million criminal fine, while four Yazaki executives were charged on Jan. 30 and have agreed to plead guilty.
On Nov. 14, Furukawa Electric Co. pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a $200 million fine. Three of Furukawa's executives also pleaded guilty and were sentenced to serve prison sentences in the United States ranging from a year and a day to 18 months.