DoJ slaps Panasonic, Sanyo and LG Chem with $57.6 mn fine for price fixing

The US regulator has slapped a total of $57.6 million criminal fine on Japanese and South Korean companies for fixing prices of automotive parts and notebook computer battery cells.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) fined Panasonic Corp $45.8 million for fixing prices in automotive parts, while its subsidiary Sanyo Electric Co was fined $10.7 million and South Korea's LG Chem was fined $1.1 million for anticompetitive conduct in the cylindrical lithium ion battery cell industry.

Panasonic has agreed to plead guilty for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices of switches, steering angle sensors and automotive high intensity discharge ballasts installed in cars sold in the US and elsewhere. Sanyo and LG Chem have agreed to plead guilty for their roles in a conspiracy to fix prices of cylindrical lithium ion battery cells sold worldwide for use in notebook computer battery packs.

''Panasonic is charged with participating in separate price-fixing conspiracies affecting numerous parts used in cars made and sold in the US while its subsidiary was also fixing prices on battery cells used by consumers of notebook computers,'' said Scott Hammond, deputy assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division's criminal enforcement program.

The DoJ alleges that Panasonic participated in a conspiracy from September 2003 until February 2010 to rig bids for, and to fix, stabilise and maintain the prices of steering wheel switches, turn switches, wiper switches, combination switches and door courtesy switches sold to Toyota Motor Corp and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America.

In a second charge, the DoJ alleges that Panasonic also conspired to rig bids and fix prices of steering angle sensors sold to Toyota, and in a third charge of conspiring to rig bids for automotive HID ballasts sold to Honda Motor, American Honda Motor Co, Mazda Motor, Mazda Motor of America, Nissan Motor Co and Nissan North America Inc.

Including Panasonic, 11 companies and 15 executives have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty and have agreed to pay a total of more than $874 million in criminal fines as a result of the auto parts investigation.

Additionally, 12 of the individuals have been sentenced to pay criminal fines and to serve jail sentences ranging from a year and a day to two years each. The three additional executives have agreed to serve time in prison and are currently awaiting sentencing.

Sanyo and LG Chem conspired to fix the price of the cylindrical lithium ion battery cells used in notebook computer battery packs from about April 2007 until September 2008.

Cylindrical lithium ion battery cells are rechargeable batteries that are often bundled as groups into more powerful battery packs commonly used to power electronic devices.