By Larry Vellequette, Automotive News
Detroit, Michigan -- A mushrooming investigation into alleged price fixing by auto-parts suppliers on four continents already is the most sweeping in US history, says John Terzaken, director of criminal enforcement in the antitrust division of the US Department of Justice.
The investigation has now spread to include six automotive component segments. The parts involved were sold both to automakers and in the aftermarket, and the probe continues to expand, he said.
"This is a very broad investigation. There is much more to come," Terzaken told Automotive News. "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."
Terzaken said officials from "Australia and other jurisdictions" have joined the investigation, along with previously disclosed participation of the European Union, Japan and the US.
The investigation has cast a broad shadow over the industry, but its limited public disclosures have left supplier executives struggling to answer questions from colleagues and industry acquaintances about whether their companies are suspected of wrongdoing.
In response to the expanding case, US suppliers are reviewing their own exposure and will gather in Detroit within the next two months to discuss the case, said officials of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association, an industry trade group.
With subpoenas and further raids by officials on at least four continents, the investigation has broadened to include at least 19 suppliers in six auto supply sectors.
As the investigation expands, suppliers have powerful incentives to turn themselves in and report others. Antitrust laws in the United States and dozens of other countries provide for sentencing leniency for those who cooperate -- and amnesty for those who are the first to provide evidence of previously unknown antitrust activity.
Neil De Koker, CEO of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association, which represents more than 400 automotive suppliers that do business in North America, said: "One of the concerns is: Where's it going next? These are criminal investigations, so there's no public report of what they're looking for."
He said the Detroit conference for its members in late January or early February is meant to discuss the case and review antitrust laws and procedures.
"The cooperation among the governments working together -- to have it expand globally like that -- I think [suppliers] are definitely looking" at their own activities to make sure they are in the clear, De Koker said.
A complete version of this story is available on www.autonews.com."