Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha pleaded guilty on Monday in Australia’s federal court to criminal cartel conduct in relation to the transport of vehicles into the country.
The charges, which were brought last Thursday by Australia’s competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), could lead to a fine of at least A$10 million ($7.6 million).
“This matter relates to alleged cartel conduct in connection with the transportation of vehicles, including cars, trucks, and buses, to Australia between July 2009 and September 2012,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement. The company had pleaded guilty, the statement said.
It was the first criminal charge laid against a corporation under the Competition and Consumer Act, Sims said, following a law change in 2009 that made cartel conduct a criminal act.
Jason Glynn, the general manager of corporate affairs for Nippon Yusen’s Australian subsidiary, NYK Line (Australia) Pty Ltd, confirmed the guilty plea.
“NYK has co-operated fully with the ACCC during the course of this investigation. NYK will not make any further comment while this matter is before the courts,” he said.
Nippon Yusen’s Tokyo headquarters could not immediately be reached for comment.
The penalty for cartel conduct under Australian competition law is the greater of $A10 million, triple the benefit attributed to the offence, or 10 percent of the corporation’s annual turnover in Australia.
The matter is due in court again on Sept. 12, with sentencing expected at a later date.
Nippon Yusen was one of 14 shipping companies that earlier in July offered to change their pricing practices in Europe to stave off possible fines after European Union antitrust regulators launched a probe in 2013.