Panasonic, Whirlpool to pay $140 million criminal fines for price-fixing

Panasonic logoPanasonic Corp. and a Whirlpool Corp. subsidiary agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges and pay $140.9 million in criminal fines for their roles in a price-fixing plot, the Department of Justice announced.

Panasonic, a Japanese corporation, and Embraco, a Delaware-based refrigerant compressor producer and seller, participated in an international conspiracy to fix the prices of compressors in refrigerators sold to consumers and businesses in the United States and elsewhere, according to separate felony charges filed today in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

The compressors take low-pressure refrigerant, compress it and pump out a high-pressure vapor which condenses and then cools refrigerators and freezers.

The Justice Department said the conspiracy began as early as Oct. 14, 2004, and lasted through Dec. 31, 2007. According to the plea agreements, both companies have agreed to cooperate with the department's ongoing refrigerant compressor investigation. Whirlpool subsidiary Embraco agreed to pay a $91.8 million criminal fine, while Panasonic agreed to pay $49.1 million.

"These are the first charges as a result of the Antitrust Division's ongoing investigation into the worldwide refrigerant compressors market," said Christine Varney, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, in a statement. "We are committed to investigating and bringing to justice those who engage in this kind of international price fixing."

According to the charges, Panasonic, Embraco and co-conspirators carried out the conspiracy by agreeing during meetings and conversations to:
  • Coordinate prices of refrigerant compressors
  • Coordinate prices on household compressors
Embraco and co-conspirators also coordinated prices on light commercial compressors.

As part of the conspiracy, Panasonic, Embraco and co-conspirators exchanged information for the purpose of monitoring and enforcing adherence to agreed-upon prices.

Both Panasonic and Embraco were charged with violating the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum fine of $100 million for corporations. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

The department's ongoing investigation into the worldwide refrigerant compressors market is being conducted by the Antitrust Division's Cleveland Field Office and the FBI's Detroit Field Office, Ann Arbor, Resident Agency. Anyone with information concerning price fixing in the refrigerant compressor industry should call the Antitrust Division's Cleveland Field Office at 216-687-8400 or visit its website.
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