EU Fines LCD Panel Makers $857M

Competition watchdog fined five Taiwanese and South Korean electronics companies $857 million for fixing prices on LCD panels between 2001 and 2006.

BRUSSELS (AP) -- The EU competition watchdog fined five Taiwanese and South Korean electronics companies €649 million ($857 million) Wednesday for fixing prices on LCD panels between 2001 and 2006.

A sixth company, Samsung Electronics Co., also participated in the price fixing but escaped a fine because it blew the whistle on the cartel, the European Commission said.

Chimei InnoLux Corp. received the biggest fine, €300 million ($396 million), LG Display Co. has to pay €215 million ($284 million), while AU Optronics Corp. was fined €116.8 million ($154 million). Two smaller companies, Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd. and HannStar Display Corp., received fines of €9 million ($11.9 million) and €8.1 million ($10.7 million) respectively.

Monday's fines targeted price-fixing for LCD panels used in flat screens for televisions, computer monitors and electronic notebooks. The European Union's initial investigation had also included smaller LCD screens like the ones built into mobile phones, digital cameras, or MP3 players, but the fines did not target price-fixing for those products.

"This was a very well organized cartel," said Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.

Between Oct. 2001 and Feb. 2006, the companies met about 60 times, mostly in Taiwanese hotels, for what they called "the Crystal meetings," the Commission said. In addition to fixing prices, they also exchanged information on their future production plans and other business plans, it said.

The cartel affected LCD panel sales worth about €7 billion ($9.24 billion) in the European market, Almunia said, and the cartel's impact on consumers was strong because most televisions and computers sold in the region come from Asia.

"Foreign companies, like European ones, need to understand that if they want to do business in Europe they must play fair," said Almunia. "The companies concerned knew they were breaking competition rules and took steps to conceal their illegal behavior."

The European Commission launched the cartel investigation in 2006 in parallel with similar action by U.S. regulators. These followed probes by South Korea and Japan.

None of the companies could be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

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