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Customers at a Panasonic shop/AFP

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Panasonic, Sanyo fined $56 mn for price-fixing

Customers at a Panasonic shop/AFP

Customers at a Panasonic shop/AFP

TOKYO, Jul 19 – Investors shrugged Friday after the US Justice Department announced Japan’s Panasonic and its subsidiary Sanyo had pleaded guilty to price-fixing involving auto parts and battery cells, agreeing to pay fines totalling $56.5 million.

A third company, South Korea’s LG Chem LTD, also pleaded guilty and will pay a more than $1 million criminal fine for price-fixing for its batteries, the department said Thursday in a statement.

According to the three felony charges filed against Panasonic, between September 2003 and February 2010 the Japanese company “participated in a conspiracy to rig bids for, and to fix, stabilise and maintain the prices of” car parts.

The parts — which included steering wheel switches and steering angle sensors — were sold to Japanese auto giant Toyota in the United States and elsewhere, the Justice Department said.

Starting in 1998, the company also engaged in price-fixing for automotive HID ballasts — which regulate voltage for car lights — to be sold to Honda, Mazda, and Nissan carmakers.

Panasonic will pay a $45.8 million criminal fine for its part in the conspiracy.

“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,” the statement said.

It said the executives have been or will be sentenced to jail time.

The separate case against Sanyo and LG Chem involved “cylindrical lithium ion battery cells used in notebook computer battery packs from about April 2007 until about September 2008.”

The two companies, it said, agreed “during meetings and conversations” to set the prices for rechargeable batteries “at predetermined levels.”

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“SANYO, LG Chem and their co-conspirators collected and exchanged information for the purpose of monitoring and enforcing adherence to the agreed-upon prices and took steps to conceal the conspiracy,” the Justice Department added.

In Japan Friday, Panasonic and Sanyo apologised for the violations and said they would pay the fines.

“Panasonic Group takes this matter seriously and has taken steps to strengthen its compliance programmes,” it said in a statement.

However, Panasonic shares were little affected, slipping 0.11 percent to 879 yen as Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 stock index lost 1.48 percent.

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