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Tech Data sues LCD panel makers over price-fixing

Distie giant seeking damages from cartel

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Tech Data is suing several LCD panel makers, alleging that they formed an international cartel to fix prices over at least a decade.

The IT distie giant claims from the start of 1996 to the end of 2006 the manufacturers conspired to "fix, raise, stabilise and maintain prices" in a lawsuit filed with the federal court in Tampa, Florida.

The filing claims the panel makers – including Samsung Electronics, LG Display, Sanyo and Sharp – met and communicated to "agree to eliminate competition and fix the prices of LCD panels and LCD products" that were to be sold in the US.

The conspiracy extended to the manufacturers own corporate subsidiaries and affiliates, as well as co-conspirators to "prevent price discrepancies" among the cartel members.

This stymied normal downward pressures on price during periods of oversupply or technological change leading to "unusually long periods of high prices and profits", Tech Data stated in the filing.

"As a result of the conspirators' unlawful conduct, plaintiffs paid higher prices for LCD products than they would have paid in a competitive market," it added.

Seven of the panel makers have previously 'fessed up to participating in a cartel: LG Display, Sharp Corporation, Chungwa Picture Tubes pleaded guilty and coughed $585m in criminal fines on 12 November 2008.

The following summer, Hitachi paid $31m for its role in price-fixing and Epson Imaging Devices Corp paid $26m. In early 2010 Chi Mei Optoelectronics forked out $220m, and in June that year, HannStar paid a $30m fine.

Tech Data said that during the decade it "suffered damages" due to the conspiracy and is seeking to "recover the overcharges paid".

Presumably the distributor will not be passing on any proceeds – should it win the case – to reseller customers that bought TVs, desktop monitors, notebooks or mobile wireless handsets containing the LCD makers' panels during the cartel's activities.

Price-fixing is a recurring theme in the LCD market, with Nokia filing a lawsuit in late 2009 against Sieko Epson, Hitachi, LG Display, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba, and Chunghwa Picture Tube.

More recently, the DoJ returned a "superseding indictment" against AU Optronics and six execs for the conspiracy to fix TFT-LCD panels from 2001 to 2006.

Even more recently, three CRT glass makers - Nippon Electric, Schott AG and Asahi Glass - settled with the EU for €128m over operating a cartel.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are listed below.

AU Optronics Corp. AU Optronics Corp. America Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp. Chi Mei Optoelectronics USA Inc. CMO Japan Co. Ltd. Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd. Epson Electronics America Inc. Epson Imaging Devices Corp. Hannstar Display Corp. Hitachi Electronic Devices (USA) Inc. Hitachi Ltd. Hitachi Displays Ltd. LG Display Co. Ltd. LG Display America Inc. Mitsui & Co. (Taiwan) Ltd. Mitsui &Co. (USA) Inc. NEC Corp. NEC Electronics America Inc. NEC LCD Technologies Ltd. NEC Display Solutions of America Inc. Samsung Electronics America Inc. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. Samsung Semiconductor Inc. Sanyo Consumer Electronics ltd. Sharp Corp. Sharp Electronics Corp. Tatung Co. of America Inc. Toshiba America Electronic Components Inc. Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. Toshiba Corp. Toshiba Matsushita Display Technology Co. Ltd. ®

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