Fine dining serves up $2m fine
Eight courses at top Sydney restaurant Azuma normally costs $110 a head but one 2008 dinner has cost ball bearings maker Koyo $2 million.
Koyo, a subsidiary of Japanese group JTEKT, has been handed a $2 million penalty after if was found to have conspired with its competitors to fix the price of ball bearings in the Australian market.
The Federal Court ruling on Friday follows an international investigation into the alleged cartel, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said.
Since 2000, senior executives from ball-bearing suppliers ran a dinner club, the Southern Cross Association, meeting three or four times a year in Sydney and Melbourne, the court found.
Koyo controls up to 10 per cent of the $400 million-a-year Australian ball bearing market, which it shares with fellow Japanese engineering groups NSK and Nachi.
In February 2008, Koyo managing director Hiroshi Sano and his counterparts - Naofumi Tada of NSK Australia and Ryo Kodama of Nachi Australia - sat down for dinner at Azuma, at the base of the Chifley Tower. It is no stranger to high-powered gatherings, with corporate heavyweights including David Gonski, Jennifer Westacott and Qantas spin doctor Olivia Wirth among those who have supped on treats such as steamed baby abalone and seared salmon belly sushi.
At the February dinner, the companies exchanged confidential information about the prices they were charging for "after-market" (AM) bearings - those used to repair and maintain machinery.
It was agreed to "implement an increase in the sales price for bearing products to AM customers in Australia", Justice Richard Edmonds said.
The association reconvened in May at the Kabuki Shoroku restaurant in Clarence Street, where Koyo struck a deal to increase its price by 3 per cent.
NSK and Nachi, who were not parties to the lawsuit, allegedly agreed to raise their prices by 4 per cent. Further rises were agreed at another dinner in 2009. Koyo admitted cartel conduct. Mr Sims said the investigation was continuing.