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Monday, May 26, 2014

The Supplier Auto Parts Fixing Scandal is Just Getting Started

Auto parts price-fixing probe rattles industry Star-Telegram, May 16 By Eric Tucker, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — An investigation into price-fixing and bid-rigging in the auto parts industry has mushroomed into the Justice Department's largest criminal antitrust probe ever, and it's not over yet.

As noted in the article, we're 4 years into the price-fixing investigations, with total fines to date (including ones levied in Japan and Germany, not just the US) of $2.3 billion. On the criminal side it's not clear whether there's much left in the pipeline.

The more interesting part is what whether any private anti-trust suits. In the US antitrust law provides for treble damages to private parties. My strong assumption is that antitrust settlements are set high but well below the maximum to garner guilty pleas and fines paid without chewing up staff time – otherwise the Department of Justice doesn't have enough people to prosecute everyone. If that's the case, then actual losses to consumers are far higher than $2.3 billion ... and the private penalties are thus $10 billion or more. That would be enough to push some suppliers into Chapter 11 (or its Japanese equivalent).

Now ... because all cases have resulted in guilty pleas without trial, no evidence has been made public. That may stymie the ability of lawyers to pull together a plaintiff or two and pursue a case. In any event, if private suits move forward, we're looking at years more. But if they go nowhere, then we may finally be nearing the end.

I know lawyers involved in one or another manner in these cases, and they take confidentiality very seriously. None have been willing to give me "deep background." Knowing how strict the rules are, I now don't ask. the prof