By Jeffrey May, J.D.
Three manufacturers of electrolytic capacitors have agreed to plead guilty for their roles in a conspiracy to fix prices. The Department of Justice Antitrust Division today filed one-count felony charges against Rubycon Corporation and Elna Co., Ltd. of Japan, and Holy Stone Holdings Co., Ltd., based in Samoa, in the federal district court in San Francisco. Each company has agreed to pay a criminal fine and cooperate with the ongoing investigation; however, the details of the plea agreements were not announced (U.S. v. Elna Co., Ltd., Case No. CR 16 365; U.S. v. Holy Stone Holdings Co., Ltd., Case No. CR 16 366; U.S. v. Rubycon Corp., Case No. CR 16 367).
The charges against Rubycon, Elna, and Holy Stone are the result of an ongoing investigation into anticompetitive conduct in the capacitor industry. Electrolytic capacitors store and regulate electrical current in a variety of electronic products, including computers, televisions, car engine and airbag systems, home appliances, and office equipment, according to the Justice Department.
Japanese capacitor manufacturer NEC Tokin Corporation was the first company to plead guilty to charges over its role in the conspiracy. NEC was fined $13.8 million in January 2016. Hitachi Chemical Co. Ltd. also pleaded guilty to charges for related conduct and was fined $3.8 million in June 2016. In addition, an industry executive has been indicted for his role in the conspiracy. The indictment—naming Takuro Isawa, a Japanese citizen and a global sales general manager for an unnamed Japanese electrolytic capacitor manufacturer—was filed under seal in 2015 and unsealed in January.
According to the government, the conspiracy lasted from around September 1997 until January 2014. Elna and Rubycon allegedly participated in the conspiracy from about August 2002 until January 2014. Holy Stone's role in the conspiracy was purportedly limited to the period between April 2010 and January 2014.
"The Antitrust Division has now charged five companies and one individual for their participation in this international price-fixing conspiracy," said Brent Snyder, Deputy Assistant Attorney General in charge of criminal enforcement at the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, in announcing the action. "The electrolytic capacitors conspiracy affected millions of American consumers who use electronic devices containing capacitors every day."
Companies: Rubycon Corp.; Elna Co., Ltd.; Holy Stone Holdings Co., Ltd.
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