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3 LCD firms plead guilty in price-fixing scheme

Thu, 11/13/2008 - 7:05am
Lara Jakes Jordan and Joelle Tessler, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – Three Asian electronics firms have agreed to plead guilty and pay $585 million in fines for conspiring to drive up the prices of LCD screens used in computers, TVs, cell phones and other electronic devices.

In a plea deal filed Wednesday, LG Display Co. Ltd., Sharp Corp. and Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd. agreed to cooperate in an antitrust investigation headed by the U.S. Justice Department. The plea agreement was filed in federal court in San Francisco.

LCDs, or liquid crystal display monitors, are the glass display screens on many laptop computers, cell phones and new TVs.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas O. Barnett said the scheme cost not only consumers, but also Dell Inc., Motorola Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. He did not have a cost value for the losses, and said the investigation is continuing.

"These price-fixing conspiracies affected millions of American consumers who use computers, cell phones and numerous other household electronics every day," Barnett told reporters at a Justice Department briefing. "By conspiring to drive up the price of LCD panels, consumers were forced to pay more for these products."

There is a $70 billion worldwide market for LCD screens. Regulators in Asia and the European Union also have opened investigations into LCD pricing.

The Justice Department said LG Display, a South Korean company, and its LG Display America Inc. unit agreed to pay a $400 million fine for participating in a conspiracy to fix the price of certain LCD panels from September 2001 to June 2006. That is the second highest criminal fine ever imposed by the Justice Department's antitrust division.

Chunghwa, a Taiwanese company, agreed to pay $65 million for participating with LG and other unnamed companies in the price-fixing conspiracy between September 2001 and December 2006.

And Sharp, a Japanese company, agreed to pay $120 million for participating in separate conspiracies to fix the price of certain LCD panels sold to Dell, Motorola and Apple between 2001 and 2006. Those panels were used in computer monitors, laptops, Motorola Razr mobile phones and Apple's iPod portable music players.

"After carefully taking into consideration the applicable laws and regulations, the facts and other factors, Sharp has decided that the best possible course of action would be to conclude the aforementioned agreement," the company said in a statement, adding that it will record the fine as an extraordinary expense in the quarter that ends in December.

Sharp also said its chairman and chief executive and some company directors will voluntarily return 10 percent to 30 percent of their compensation for three months starting in December due to "inconvenience and/or anxiety to our shareholders and other persons concerned."

"Sharp understands the gravity of this situation and will strengthen and thoroughly implement measures to prevent the recurrence of this kind of problem, and will earnestly work to regain the public's confidence," the company said.

Representatives from LG Display and Chunghwa could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

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