Electronic component companies subpoenaed in inductor cartel probe

04 January 2018 00:00

Electronics manufacturers have been subpoenaed by US antitrust prosecutors as part of a price-fixing investigation involving the inductor market, MLex has learned.

Subpoenas were sent out in mid-November, and the San Francisco office at the Department of Justice’s antitrust division is overseeing the investigation, it is understood.

The inductor subpoenas are part of a long-running investigation into the passive components industry, which also includes capacitors and resistors. The components are parts of electrical circuits that store and regulate the flow of electricity, and are ubiquitous in electronic devices.

The component cases began as part of a so-called leniency-plus application from Panasonic, which in 2013 pleaded guilty and paid a $45.8 million fine for fixing prices on several car parts. In conjunction with its plea, Panasonic told prosecutors about price-fixing of capacitors, leading to guilty pleas from seven companies and the indictment of Nippon Chemi-con. The specific role of Panasonic in the inductor case is not clear.

Other companies making inductors include TDK, Toshin Kogyo, Rohm, Taiyo Yuden, Sumida, and Murata, all based in Japan. Taiwan-based companies TRIO Technology, Delta Electronics, Chilisin Electronics, and Yaego also make inductors.

All four Taiwanese companies said they have not received subpoenas. Murata, Rohm, Taiyo Yuden and TDK declined to comment. Toshin Kogyo and Panasonic both said they have not received subpoenas, while Sumida did not respond for comment.

TDK is under investigation in the US and Japan for potentially fixing prices on suspension parts for hard drives.

The DOJ declined to comment.

The antitrust division’s leniency program allows the first company to report cartel conduct on a product to avoid criminal penalties in exchange for full cooperation with the investigation. If a company is not first to report, it can still receive cooperation credit by disclosing potential cartel activity on other products.

Seven companies, including Hitachi Chemical, NEC Tokin and Nichicon, pleaded guilty as part of the capacitor case. Nippon Chemi-con was indicted for alleged capacitor price-fixing in October. Prosecutors closed the resistor case without charges.

Prosecutors also conducted a preliminary investigation of the diode market — involving some of the same companies — but that never advanced to a full investigation with grand jury subpoenas, it is understood.

—With additional reporting from Toko Sekiguchi in Tokyo and Xu Yuan in Hong Kong.

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