WASHINGTON — A Japanese businessman has been sentenced to a year in prison and fined $20,000 for his role in scheme to fix the prices of heater control panels installed in US cars, officials in Washington said Monday.
Businessman Norihiro Imai pleaded guilty at a federal court in Detroit, Michigan, to one felony charge of conspiracy for hatching a plan to rig bids and fix prices for heater control panels sold to customers in the United States and elsewhere.
US Justice Department officials said Imai, an executive of the Japan-based DENSO Corporation — and his co-conspirators kept their scam going between August 2006 and at least June 2009.
According to the terms of his plea agreement, which is subject to court approval, Imai, in addition to his prison time and fine, has agreed to cooperate with the department’s ongoing investigation.
“Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the Antitrust Division’s commitment to hold executives accountable for engaging in illegal conduct that leads to higher prices for American businesses and consumers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Sharis Pozen in a statement.
“Criminal antitrust enforcement is a top priority, and the division will continue to work with its law enforcement partners in the ongoing investigation in the auto parts industry,” said Pozen, who heads up the DOJ’s Antitrust Division.
DENSO manufactures and sells a variety of automotive electrical parts, including heater control panels.
The panels are located in the center console of an automobile and control the temperature of the interior environment of a vehicle.
According to the Justice Department statement, Imai and his co-conspirators agreed to coordinate bids submitted to, and price adjustments requested by, automobile manufacturers.
All told, eight individuals including Imai and three companies have been implicated in the scandal, some of whom already have been sentenced for their role in the crimes.
Among the companies convicted in the scam, DENSO pleaded guilty on March 5, 2012, and was sentenced to pay a $78 million criminal fine.
Yazaki Corporation, another Japanese automotive electrical component supplier, pleaded guilty on March 1, 2012, and was sentenced to pay a $470 million criminal fine.