South Korean suppliers Continental Automotive Electronics and Continental Automotive Korea will plead guilty to rigging the prices of instrument panel clusters and pay a criminal fine of $4 million, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Monday.
The panels were sold to Hyundai Motor Co., Kia Motors Corp. and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia for more than eight years, the department said.
The charged companies admitted that they had “meetings and conversations” with co-conspirators about the allocation of sales of instrument panel clusters as well as the bids and price quotes they would submit, the department said.
The department said the price-fixing conspiracy began as early as March 2004 and continued until May 2012.
Continental is cooperating fully with the investigation, a spokeswoman said.
“Continental has a zero-tolerance policy for this type of thing. We try to operate with the highest levels of integrity in all areas of our business,” Continental spokeswoman Kathryn Blackwell said. “This is something we take very seriously.”
Blackwell added “the people who are involved, to my knowledge, are no longer with the company.
“We’ve had ongoing educational efforts throughout the system about antitrust laws, which vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,” she said. “For example, in the U.S., we’ve had significant training for employees on these issues. That’s been going on for years now.”
The federal crackdown on bid rigging, price fixing and “other anticompetitive conduct” throughout the auto industry has led to charges against 32 companies and 46 executives, with 26 of them sentenced to prison in the U.S., the department said.
The department said each of the 32 companies has pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty, while paying fines of more than $2.4 billion.
A one-count felony charge against Continental Automotive Electronics and Continental Automotive Korea was filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
“As the Antitrust Division’s prosecution of auto parts matters like this one demonstrates, we will prosecute those who participate in international cartels targeting U.S. businesses and consumers,” Brent Snyder, deputy assistant attorney general for the antitrust division’s criminal enforcement program, said in a statement. “The Antitrust Division is working closely with competition enforcers around the world to ensure that companies and executives that engage in international cartel crimes find no refuge.”