DETROIT -- Japanese auto parts giant Aisin Seiki Co. has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $35.8 million criminal fine for its involvement in a conspiracy to allocate customers of variable valve timing devices, the U.S. Department of Justice said today.
It’s the latest prosecution in the largest antitrust investigation in U.S. history. Similar investigations also have taken place in Canada, China, Japan, Australia and Europe.
According to a one-count felony charge filed today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis, Aisin conspired to allocate customers of variable valve timing devices sold to automakers including General Motors, Nissan, Volvo and BMW in the United States and elsewhere.
Aisin Seiki ranks No. 5 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers with estimated global parts sales to automakers of $27.13 billion in fiscal 2013.
Mike Lapinski, Aisin's vice president of human resources and corporate communications at its U.S. unit in suburban Detroit, said in an e-mailed statement today:
“Aisin Seiki sincerely regrets the events that occurred and any concern caused to our shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders regarding this matter. Aisin Seiki takes its corporate social responsibility seriously, and is strongly committed in taking all steps necessary to comply with the law.
"Since the investigation, Aisin Seiki has taken steps to strengthen its commitment to antitrust compliance to ensure this type of conduct does not occur again. We will devote every effort to restore the trust of all stakeholders and the public."
The plea agreement calls for Aisin to cooperate in the nearly five-year-old investigation of price fixing and bid rigging among auto parts suppliers, the Justice Department’s antitrust division said.
The department said that Aisin and its co-conspirators held meetings and conversations to discuss and agree upon the customers to whom each would sell variable valve timing devices, and the bids and price quotations each would submit. Aisin’s involvement in the conspiracy lasted from as early as September 2000 until at least February 2010, the department said.
Variable valve timing devices are used to regulate the timing, extent and duration of the opening of the engine’s intake and exhaust valves, thereby increasing fuel economy and engine performance.
Including Aisin, 31 companies and 44 individuals have been charged so far in the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into the automotive parts industry.
All 31 companies have either pleaded guilty or have agreed to plead guilty and have agreed to pay more than $2.4 billion in criminal fines.
Of the 44 individuals, 26 have been sentenced to serve time in U.S. prisons or have entered into plea agreements calling for significant prison sentences.