WASHINGTON – TRW Deutschland Holding GmbH, a Germany-based subsidiary of U.S.-based TRW Automotive Holdings Corp., has agreed to plead guilty for its involvement in a conspiracy to fix prices of seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels. The parts were sold to two German automobile manufacturers and installed in cars sold in the U.S., the Department of Justice announced.   

This is the second case filed relating to occupant safety systems sold to auto manufacturers as part of the department’s ongoing antitrust auto parts investigation.

TRW Deutschland has agreed to pay a $5.1 million criminal fine and to cooperate with the department’s ongoing investigation. The plea agreement is subject to court approval.

"By agreeing to fix the prices of seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels, the conspirators eliminated competition for occupant safety parts in cars sold to U.S. consumers," said Scott D. Hammond, deputy assistant attorney general of the Antitrust Division’s Criminal Enforcement program. "As a result of the division’s close work with its law enforcement partners, more than $785 million in criminal fines have been imposed in this ongoing investigation."

According to a one-count felony charge filed July 30 in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, TRW Deutschland engaged in a conspiracy to rig bids for -- and to fix, stabilize and maintain -- the prices of seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels sold to automakers in the United States and elsewhere.

According to court documents, the defendant’s involvement in the conspiracy to fix prices of seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels spanned from January 2008 to at least June 2011. The department said that the TRW Automotive subsidiary and its partners carried out the conspiracy by agreeing -- during meetings and conversations -- to allocate the supply of seatbelts, airbags and steering wheels and sold the occupant safety parts at noncompetitive prices to automakers in the United States and elsewhere.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, all but one of TRW Deutschland’s employees will be protected against prosecution for the antitrust offenses. The Department of Justice has made no determination whether the employee will face prosecution.  

A related European Commission investigation into alleged violations is ongoing. 

"The actions connected with the DOJ settlement announced today conflict with what TRW stands for and are not consistent with our policies," said TRW Automotive Chairman and CEO John Plant in a released statement. "The Company's policy is to comply with all laws and regulations, including all antitrust and competition laws. Once we learned of the investigation, we moved very quickly to cooperate with the DOJ and bring this matter to a resolution. In addition, we have put in place enhanced training and communications to ensure that everyone in the organization is clear that we do not tolerate such conduct."  

Including TRW Deutschland, seven companies and 10 individuals have been charged in the department’s ongoing investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the auto parts industry.  Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd., DENSO Corp., Yazaki Corp., G.S. Electech Inc., Fujikura Ltd. and Autoliv Inc. pleaded guilty and were sentenced to pay a total of more than $785 million in criminal fines.   

Additionally, seven of the individuals – Junichi Funo, Hirotsugu Nagata, Tetsuya Ukai, Tsuneaki Hanamura, Ryoki Kawai, Shigeru Ogawa and Hisamitsu Takada – have been sentenced to pay criminal fines and to serve jail sentences ranging from a year and a day to two years each. Makoto Hattori and Norihiro Imai have pleaded guilty and await sentencing. Kazuhiko Kashimoto is scheduled to plead guilty on Aug. 22.

TRW Deutschland is charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of a $100 million criminal fine for corporations. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

The prosecution arose from an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry. The Antitrust Division’s National Criminal Enforcement Section and the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, with the assistance of the FBI headquarters’ International Corruption Unit, is in charge of the investigation.