(Reuters) - Ford Motor Co (F.N) has sued Japanese auto-parts supplier Fujikura Ltd (5803.T), claiming a conspiracy to fix the prices of electrical systems used in vehicles, the latest civil lawsuit filed in the wake of a related criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.
The government's probe has resulted in guilty pleas or agreements to plead guilty by 10 companies, including Fujikura. Last year it pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $20 million fine to resolve the government's allegations that it participated in a conspiracy to fix the prices of wire harnesses, which allow data and electrical power to be transmitted throughout a vehicle.
In its lawsuit, filed in Detroit federal court on Tuesday, Ford said that Fujikura and alleged co-conspirators agreed not to compete with one another to sell Ford wire harnesses.
Ford said that it spent more than $10 billion on wire harnesses between roughly January 2000 and around February 2010, when it alleges a conspiracy took place.
The lawsuit seeks three times the damages Ford suffered as a result of paying what it said were artificially high prices for the harnesses.
An attorney for Ford declined to comment, as did Fujikura.
Since 2012, several class actions have been filed by consumers, car dealers and others alleging conspiracies to keep the prices of auto parts artificially high. Those lawsuits have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani in Detroit federal court.
The Justice Department has called the auto-parts price-fixing investigation, launched in 2010, its biggest criminal antitrust probe ever in terms of scope and volume of commerce. It has said 10 companies and 15 executives have to date agreed to pay a total of $828 million in criminal fines.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced that Japan's Diamond Electric Manufacturing Co Ltd had agreed to plead guilty and pay a $19 million fine for a conspiracy to fix prices of ignition coils sold to Ford.
The latest suit is Ford Motor Co v. Fujikura Ltd and Fujikura Automotive America LLC, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, No. 13-13055.
Reporting by Andrew Longstreth; Editing by Howard Goller and Prudence Crowther