DETROIT — Japanese electronics giant Panasonic Corp. and a subsidiary of Michigan-based appliance maker Whirlpool Corp. have agreed to plead guilty and pay more than $140 million in criminal fines for their roles in an international price-fixing scheme, the US Justice Department said yesterday.
The companies conspired to fix the prices of refrigerant compressors, the government said in a written statement.
Refrigerant compressors are placed into refrigerators and freezers, take in low-pressure refrigerant, compress it, and pump out a high-pressure vapor that condenses and subsequently cools the devices.
In papers filed in federal court, Panasonic and Embraco North America Inc. are accused of working to fix prices on the compressors from 2004 to 2007 in the United States and abroad.
Justice said Embraco would pay $91.8 million and Panasonic $49.1 million in criminal fines as part of plea deals that are subject to court approval. Christine Varney, assistant attorney general, said the charges were the first brought by the department in its worldwide probe of the refrigerant compressors market.
Justice said in February 2009 that it had opened an antitrust investigation of the compressor industry, part of a global probe of possible price fixing and other anticompetitive practices at companies that supply the cooling parts for appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners.