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LCD makers to pay $585m for price-fixing conspiracy

Cartel burned Dell, Apple, Motorola

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Three Asian electronics manufactures on Wednesday agreed to pay a combined $585m after admitting they conspired to drive up the prices of liquid crystal display monitors that were bought by Dell, Apple, Motorola, and others.

LG Display of South Korea, Sharp of Japan, and Chunghwa of Taiwan pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges filed in US District Court in San Francisco. In addition to agreeing to pay fines, the three companies have offered to cooperate in an ongoing antitrust investigation, meaning other electronics makers may soon face similar charges.

According to prosecutors, executives from all three companies repeatedly met and communicated with their co-conspirators and agreed to charge predetermined prices for LCD monitors. Sharp's actions directly inflated the price of LCD devices bought by Apple for iPods, Motorola for Razr phones, and Dell for undisclosed products. Court documents charging LG Display and Chunghwa didn't list customers who were cheated.

"These price-fixing conspiracies affected millions of American consumers who use computers, cell phones and numerous other household electronics every day,” Thomas Barnett, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's antitrust division, said in a statement. "These convictions, and the significant fines they carry, should send a clear message that the Antitrust Division will vigorously investigate and prosecute illegal cartels, regardless of where they are located."

LG Display's fine totaled $400m, the second highest criminal fine ever imposed in a US antitrust case. Sharp has agreed to pay $120m, and Chunghwa will pay $65m. The case was brought by the same San Francisco-based team that has successfully prosecuted makers of dynamic random access memory chips for price fixing and netted $730m from companies including Samsung, Elpida, Hynix, and Infineon.

The market for LCD panels is about $70bln, the Justice Department said. Prosecutors didn't estimate the loss caused by the price fixing. ®

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