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German auto parts maker Robert Bosch GmbH agreed to plead guilty and pay a $57.8 million for price fixing. It is the latest auto supplier worldwide snared by a Justice Department investigation.

The Justice Department said Bosch — which has its North American headquarters in Farmington Hills and is the world’s largest independent supplier — agreed to plead guilty in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for spark plugs, oxygen sensors and starter motors sold around the world.

According to a one-count felony charge filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Bosch conspired to rig bids and fix prices for spark plugs and oxygen sensors in then-DaimlerChrysler AG, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and auto suppliers from at least as early as January 2000 until at least July 2011.

Bosch is also charged with participating in a conspiracy to allocate the supply of, rig bids for, and to fix, stabilize and maintain the prices of starter motors sold to Volkswagen AG from at least as early as January 2009 until at least June 2010. Bosch has agreed to cooperate in the department’s ongoing investigation.

The charge against Bosch is the latest in the government’s sweeping investigation into anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry. Bosch is the third European-based company charged.

Including Bosch, 34 companies and 29 executives have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty in the ongoing investigation into price fixing and bid rigging and have agreed to pay a total of nearly $2.5 billion in criminal fines.

“The participants in this conspiracy were not located in just one country or region of the world,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brent Snyder of the Antitrust Division’s Criminal Enforcement Program. “Collusion related to automotive parts was global in nature as are our efforts to hold responsible companies and individuals accountable for the resulting harm to U.S. consumers and businesses.”

A spark plug is an engine component used to deliver high electric voltage from the ignition system to the combustion chamber. Oxygen sensors are in the exhaust system and measure the amount of oxygen in the exhaust. Starter motors are small electric motors used in starting engines.

To date, 43 individuals have been charged in the government’s investigation into price-fixing and bid-rigging in the auto parts industry.

In 2013, the Justice Department said the international price fixing conspiracies affected more than $5 billion in automobile parts served to U.S. car manufacturers; in total, more than 25 million cars purchased by American consumers were affected.

Auto supplier price-fixing is being investigated by officials in the U.S., Europe, Australia, South Korea, Japan and Canada. A Justice Department investigation first came to light with search warrants executed by the FBI in early 2010 at the Metro Detroit U.S. headquarters of three Japanese suppliers.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com

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