By Ros Krasny
WASHINGTON, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Japan's Bridgestone Corp has agreed to plead guilty and to pay a $425 million criminal fine for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices on certain automotive parts, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday.
The case involved anti-vibration rubber parts sold in the United States and elsewhere to Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Corp, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd, Suzuki Motor Corp, Isuzu Motors Ltd and certain of their subsidiaries and affiliates.
The agreement is subject to court approval.
In a statement, Bridgestone said its management "sincerely regrets the actions that resulted in this plea agreement and that they did not discover these activities at an earlier date." Certain antitrust violations had taken place as long ago as 2001, the company said.
Law enforcement authorities in the United States and elsewhere have so far brought price-fixing cases related to auto parts ranging from seat belts to power window motors.
Including Bridgestone, 26 companies have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty to price fixing or bid rigging. The investigation has levied more than $2 billion in fines.
In October 2011, Bridgestone pleaded guilty and paid a $28 million fine for price-fixing and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations in the marine hose industry.
It did not disclose at the time of the plea that it had also participated in the anti-vibration rubber parts conspiracy, the Department of Justice said, and that failure to disclose was a factor in determining the latest fine.
"The Antitrust Division will take a hard line when repeat offenders fail to disclose additional anticompetitive behavior," said Brent Snyder, deputy assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division's criminal enforcement program.
Bridgestone said it plans to record a special loss of 44.79 billion yen (about $438 million) for the fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2013.
The company said it plans "appropriate disciplinary action" against certain employees responsible for the activities. Some board members and corporate officers will also forgo bonus payments scheduled to be made in March.
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