China has levied record fines on a dozen Japanese car parts makers for price fixing. The measures are a part of China's efforts to tighten compliance with anti-monopoly laws in the world's largest auto sector.
A Chinese antitrust regulator ordered on Wednesday 12 Japanese auto parts suppliers to pay an unprecedented 1.24 billion yuan ($201.7 million, 151.6 million euros) fine for violating antitrust laws.
The fines were the biggest China has imposed since its anti-monopoly law came into effect in 2008. They followed a global crackdown by Beijing on price collusion in the auto parts industry, targeting major corporations not only in Japan, but also in the US and Europe.
The companies collaborated to reduce competition for more than 10 years, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), a Chinese governmental body investigating potential monopoly activities, said in a statement.
Among those found culpable were Hitachi, Denso, Aisan, Mitsubishi Electric, Mitsuba, Yazaki, Furukawa Electric and Sumitomo, as well as roller bearing makers Nachi, NSK, JTEKT and NTN.
Sumitomo received the heaviest fine of 290.4 million yuan. Under Chinese anti-trust law, the commission can stipulate fines between 1 to 10 percent of a company's revenues from the previous year for anti-competitive practices.
Hitachi and Nachi were exempt from financial penalties, as they informed authorities of their monopoly agreements and offered critical evidence in this regard, according to the NDRC.
The regulator announced in early August it was looking into auto firms for possible anti-trust violations.
"The companies … unlawfully affected prices of auto parts, finished vehicles and bearings in China and harmed the interest of downstream manufacturers and consumers," the NDRC said.
A variety of sectors - from automotive to pharmaceutical - have recently come under scrutiny as China seeks to crack down on corruption and step up its enforcement of anti-trust laws, both at home and abroad.
But the investigations have raised investor concerns that foreign firms are specifically being targeted .
Legal experts point out that regulators have enforced the law against more foreign multinationals than local companies. Chinese officials have countered by saying the law has been applied to all firms regardless of nationality with the aim of protecting consumers.
Chinese state media have reported that more than 1,000 companies in the country's automotive sector are involved in ongoing anti-monopoly probes by the government. Earlier this month, Mercedes-Benz was also found guilty of manipulating prices for after-sales services in China.
el/cjc (DPA, Reuters, AFP, Xinhua)