Australian officials have joined an international investigation into alleged price fixing of automotive parts that spans four continents.
US Department of Justice director of criminal enforcement in the antitrust division John Terzaken told Automotive News the investigation is the most widespread in US history and involves six automotive component sectors.
"This is a very broad investigation. There is much more to come," Terzaken said. "In terms of the breadth of the investigation and the scope of the commerce involved, there's certainly nothing on the record that parallels this."
Australian officials are assisting those from the US, Japan and the European Union. The parts under investigation were sold direct to car manufacturers as well as in the aftermarket industry.
Nineteen companies have been involved in the investigations into anti-competitive behaviour, across the EU, the US and Japan. So far no Australian-based companies have been investigated.
There has been one corporate conviction so far, with Japan’s Furukawa Electric Co. fined $200 million and three company executives incarcerated, currently awaiting sentencing.
Terzaken said the investigation is a “very high priority” because of its significance to the economy. “It will remain a very significant interest of the division until the end and all of its just conclusions have been reached.”
University of Michigan antitrust law expert Valerie Suslow told Automotive News convictions in global cases were often difficult to achieve.
"You need evidence that the companies communicated to fix prices or allocate customers or market shares or geographic areas. Often it means that they met face to face.”
US lawyers have filed approximately 25 class action lawsuits on behalf of car dealers and consumers who are seeking damages.