DETROIT -- An expanding global price-fixing investigation of auto suppliers has ensnared a European seat-belt manufacturer and revealed the identity of at least one automaker victim: Honda Motor Co.
Swedish supplier Autoliv Inc. has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $14.5 million fine for allegedly conspiring to fix prices of seat belts, airbags and steering wheels installed in U.S. cars for one carmaker and to fix seat belt prices for another carmaker, the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust division said. The carmakers were not identified.
"It is simply unacceptable that we have ended up in this situation in the first place. It goes against everything we stand for," Autoliv CEO Jan Carlson said in a statement. The Justice Department also said it had obtained an agreement for a guilty plea from a fifth executive of Yazaki Corp. for alleged price fixing. Kazuhiko Kashimoto agreed to serve 14 months in a U.S. prison and pay a $20,000 fine, the department said.
Investigators said Kashimoto and others conspired from 2000 until at least September 2007 to become dominant suppliers of wire harnesses for individual models. Court documents say Kashimoto and his co-conspirators used code names and met at private residences and remote locations to keep their activities secret.
In the department's auto-parts investigation, Autoliv's plea is the first to involve an occupant safety supplier. During the period of the alleged price fixing, Kashimoto held several management positions for Yazaki's Honda sales and business unit.
Ron Lietzke, a spokesman for Honda of America Manufacturing, confirmed that federal antitrust investigators had contacted Honda in 2010. Yazaki supplies electric wire harnesses to Honda.
Lietzke said Honda "has fully cooperated with this investigation and is continuing to do so."