DETROIT (Nov. 1, 9:25 a.m. ET) — Japan's Tokai Rika Co. becomes the 9th company to plead guilty in a U.S. Department of Justice crackdown on auto supplier price fixing — and the first to be accused of actively destroying evidence once the federal investigation began.
Tokai Rika, a maker of control stalks, power window and steering switches, shift levers, connectors, control units and other parts, will pay $17.7 million after pleading guilty at U.S. District Court in Detroit to one count of conspiracy to restrain trade in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and one count of obstruction of justice, under an agreement with Justice's Antitrust Division announced today.
That brings the total to more than $808 million in fines, in just over one year of criminal prosecutions against various Japanese and European suppliers with subsidiaries or operations in the United States.
Federal prosecutors allege Tokai Rika conspired with other suppliers to set the prices of automotive heater control panels to Toyota's U.S. subsidiary, Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc. The conspiracy lasted from 2003 until an FBI search of Tokai subsidiary TRAM Inc. in Plymouth, Mich., in February 2010, the government said.
The FBI also conducted similar searches at the offices of Yazaki North America Inc. in Canton Township and Denso International Inc. in Southfield around the same time. In filing an obstruction charge, the government also alleges that a Tokai executive directed employees of its U.S. subsidiary to destroy and alter records that were to be furnished to a federal grand jury.
The FBI subsequently raided Auburn Hills-based TK Holdings Inc., the North American subsidiary of Tokyo-based Takata Corp., about a year later in an effort to obtain communications regarding Tokai Rika.
“After becoming aware of the FBI search of (Tokai's U.S.) subsidiary, an executive … directed director employees to delete electronic data and destroy paper documents likely to contain evidence of antitrust crimes in the United States and elsewhere … ,” a criminal information sheet filed against Tokai Rika states. “(A)nd some of the deleted electronic data and destroyed paper documents were non-recoverable.”
Michael Vokal, a finance manager for TRAM in Plymouth, could not be immediately reached for comment. An employee at the Plymouth offices said the parent company would issue a statement on the price-fixing charges today on Tokai Rika's Web site.
Tokai joins seven other companies and 11 executives to be charged in the U.S. in the price-fixing and bid-rigging investigation.
Pleading guilty and accepting fines to date are Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd. ($200 million), Denso Corp. ($78 million), G.S. Electech Inc. ($2.75 million), Fujikura Ltd. ($20 million), Autoliv Inc. ($14.5 million), TRW Deutschland Holding GmbH, a German unit of TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. ($5.1 million), and Nippon Seiki Co. Ltd.
Seven executives from a handful of the companies — Junichi Funo, Hirotsugu Nagata, Tetsuya Ukai, Tsuneaki Hanamura, Ryoki Kawai, Shigeru Ogawa, Hisamitsu Takada, Norihiro Imai, Kazuhiko Kashimoto, Toshio Sudo and Makoto Hattori — have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to fines and prison sentences ranging from a year and a day to two years.
Tokai Rika ranks No. 51 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers with estimated worldwide sales to automakers of $4 billion in fiscal 2011. The company generated about 17 percent of its automotive business in North America last year, according to the list.