LCD Manufacturer Owes $500M for Fixing Prices

     (CN) – A federal judge ordered a Taiwanese manufacturer to pay $500 million for fixing the prices of the liquid crystal display panels that it sold to Apple and other companies.
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     AU Optronics Corporation, its American subsidiary and two former top executives were sentenced in San Francisco by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston after a joint investigation by the Justice Department and the FBI revealed five years of secret meetings between the company and its competitors.
     AU Optronics executives met monthly with rivals in hotel conference rooms, karaoke bars and tea rooms around Taiwan, according to the report.
     Following an eight-week trial in March, a jury found the company and executives guilty of running a “worldwide price-fixing conspiracy” from September 2001 to December 2006.
     LCD panels are used in computer monitors and notebooks, televisions and other electronic devices. AU Optronics sold the panels to a host of the largest computer manufacturers in the world, including Apple, Hewlett Packard and Dell.
     Illston ordered Hsuan Bin Chen, AU Optronics’ former president, to serve three years in prison for his role in the conspiracy.
     Hui Hsiung, the company’s executive vice president, was also sentenced to three years. Each must pay a $200,000 criminal fine.
     Deputy Assistant Attorney General Scott Hammond said the government takes these cartels seriously.
     “This long-running price-fixing conspiracy resulted in every family, school, business, charity and government agency who bought notebook computers, computer monitors and LCD televisions during the conspiracy to pay more for these products,” Hammond said in a statement.
     LCD panels became a $70 billion global industry by the end of the conspiracy, according to the Justice Department.
     The $500 million fine matches the largest fine imposed against a company for violating the U.S. antitrust laws.
     FBI assistant director Ronald Hosko applauded his agents for their work on the case.
     “The number of criminal antitrust cases filed has significantly increased over the last five years, and so has the dedication of FBI resources to these important investigations,” Hosko said in a statement.
     “This team has devoted countless hours to the investigation and I appreciate their devotion to the mission,” he added.

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