$32.6 Million Offered for Tech Price-Fixing

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Several electronics firms have agreed to pay $32.6 million to settle antitrust claims of conspiring to fix prices of electrical circuit components in the United States.
     Lead plaintiff Chip-Tech and three other direct purchasers of aluminum, tantalum and film capacitors, a basic component of electrical circuits, filed a motion Tuesday for preliminary approval of a settlement with five defendants and certification of a direct purchaser class, calling the $32.6 million figure “an excellent recovery.”
     Although Fujitsu, Nec Tokin, Nitsuko, Okaya and Rohm have agreed to settle, several other defendants in the proposed class action, including Hitachi and Panasonic, refused to follow suit.
     The direct purchasers say they will continue to prosecute their claims against the non-settling firms “and other co-conspirators.”
     Under the proposed settlement, Fujitsu will pay $2 million; Nec Tokin $24 million; Nitsuko $1.1 million; Okaya $3.65 million, and Rohm $1.85 million.
     The direct purchasers accused Fujitsu, Hitachi, Panasonic, Sanyo and others in 2014 of forming an illegal cartel and entering illegal agreements to drive up the price of capacitors beginning on Jan. 1, 2003.
     Declining demand for some types of capacitors in the early 2000s and increased competition caused profits to fall. The manufacturers responded by rigging prices and slowing down production, according to the Dec. 4, 2014 consolidated complaint.
     The plaintiffs say the plan worked: As the defendants exchanged sensitive pricing information at regular meetings, global income in the capacitor industry rose from $16 billion in 2013 to $20 billion this year.
     “Defendants’ cartel has been successful in achieving the anticompetitive and unlawful ends for which it was formed,” the plaintiffs said.
     Interim class counsel asked for $7.5 million in attorneys’ fees from the $32.5 million settlement.
     The direct purchasers ask for certification of a settlement class consisting of all people or entities in the United States that bought capacitors from the defendants between Jan. 2, 2002 and July 22, 2015.
     Some of the defendants have been criminally prosecuted, according to the nearly 2-year-old consolidated complaint. Law enforcement agencies around the world announced investigations into the capacitor conspiracy in 2014, and Panasonic and Sanyo admitted the scheme to the Justice Department, according to the consolidated lawsuit.
     The Justice Department accused Nec Tokin in 2015 of anticompetitive conduct connected to the conspiracy, and the company was fined $13.8 million after pleading guilty.
     Several individuals connected to Nec Tokin may face criminal prosecution, according to the settlement motion.
     Nec Tokin has said it is struggling to survive. Its proposed settlement of $24 million is by far the largest in the civil case, and it told the court at a hearing this year that it would have trouble paying anything more than the $13.8 million criminal fine.
     The plaintiffs are represented by Joseph Saveri in San Francisco.
     Fujitsu is represented by Paul Friedman with Morrison & Foerster; Nec Tokin by George Nicoud with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Nitsuko by Ashley Bauer with Latham & Watkins; Rohm by Mallory Jensen with O’Melveny and Myers, all of San Francisco; and Okaya by Darrell Prescott with Baker and McKenzi in New York City.
     Neither Saveri nor the defense counsel could be reached for comment Thursday.

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