U.S. auto parts probe snares 50th executive

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau
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Washington — The Justice Department said Thursday it has snared the 50th executive in its wide-ranging price fixing probe in the auto parts industry, announcing a Takata Corp. executive was indicted in Detroit for conspiring to fix seat belt prices.

The indictment, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, charges Hiromu Usuda, an executive at Takata, with conspiring to rig bids and stabilize the prices of seat belts sold to Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp. and Subaru.

Usuda served as group and department manager in the Customer Relations Division at Takata, from January 2005 until at least February 2011.

“Antitrust violators who refuse to accept responsibility for their crimes leave us no choice but to indict,” said Brent Synder, deputy assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program. “We will continue to prosecute those that commit these crimes.”

Including Usuda, 50 individuals have been charged in the government’s ongoing investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the auto parts industry. Additionally, 32 companies have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty and have agreed to pay a total of more than $2.4 billion in fines.

The Justice Department said Usuda and others attended meetings with co-conspirators and reached agreements to rig bids, allocate the supply and fix the prices of seat belts sold to the automobile manufacturers.

Takata is a Tokyo-based manufacturer of automotive parts, including seat belts. The company supplies automotive parts to automobile manufacturers in the United States, in part, through its U.S. subsidiary, TK Holdings Inc., located in Auburn Hills.

Takata pleaded guilty in December 2013 for its involvement in the conspiracy, and was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $71.3 million. Four other executives from Takata have pleaded guilty, have been sentenced to serve time in a U.S. prison and pay criminal fines for their roles in the conspiracy.

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 by this illegal conduct," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "We will continue to check under every hood and kick every tire to make sure we put an end to this illegal and destructive conduct."

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.

The indictment is separate to another ongoing investigation into exploding Takata air bags.

In November Takata said it received a federal grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York over defective air bags.

The company — which faces an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — said it faces a probe into exploding air bags that cause metal fragments to hit drivers and passengers, and are linked to five deaths worldwide and at least 50 injuries. Ten major automakers have recalled at least 14.5 million vehicles with Takata air bags since 2013.


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