Ford sues Japanese wiring supplier over conspiracy to fix prices
Civil lawsuit against Fujikura follows up on U.S. criminal charges
WASHINGTON -- Ford Motor Co. has sued one of its Japanese suppliers following a criminal case in which the parts maker admitted to being part of a conspiracy to fix prices of key wiring components.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, says Fujikura Ltd. and a suburban Detroit subsidiary, Fujikura Automotive America, coordinated with other suppliers from January 2000 until at least February 2010 to set artificially high prices on wire harnesses supplied to Ford.
Fujikura, of Tokyo, in April 2012 agreed to plead guilty in U.S. District Court in Detroit to one count of price fixing. It agreed to pay a $20 million fine for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices of automotive wire harnesses installed in U.S. vehicles, the U.S. Justice Department said.
According to the Justice Department, Fujikura and unnamed co-conspirators agreed during meetings and conversations in Japan "to allocate the supply of automotive wire harnesses and related products on a model-by-model basis and sold the parts at non-competitive prices to an automaker in the United States and elsewhere."
Under the plea agreement, the company also agreed to cooperate in the government's ongoing antitrust investigation, the department said.
The lawsuit does not say how much Ford believes it lost, but the automaker wants its money back. The lawsuit seeks triple damages for Ford's losses, as allowed by law.
A spokeswoman for Fujikura did not immediately reply today to a message seeking comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is just the latest in a series of allegations of global price-fixing and bid-rigging in the multibillion-dollar market for wire harnesses, which Ford describes as "the nerve center of every vehicle."
A government probe into the market became known to the public in 2010, when FBI agents raided the U.S. offices of Yazaki North America Inc., Denso International America Inc. and Tokai Rika Group North America.
So far, the U.S. Department of Justice has levied $828 million in fines, convicted 15 executives of wrongdoing and secured guilty pleas from 10 suppliers, including Fujikura. The latest one ensnared was Diamond Electric Manufacturing of Osaka, Japan, which will plead guilty to price-fixing charges and pay a $19 million fine, the department said Tuesday.
The government probe could spread farther. The investigation "has grown over time and is broader than what we've announced so far," said Scott Hammond, the deputy assistant attorney general, in February.
The investigation also has spread to Europe. Reuters reported that the European Commission fined four wire-harness suppliers $182 million last week for their role in cartels that affected Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Renault.
The global market for wire harnesses was $26.9 billion in 2010, according to data from the market research firm Research in China cited in Ford's lawsuit.
The Detroit News reported the suit on Tuesday.
Larry P. Vellequette and David Sedgwick contributed to this report.
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