LCD makers in $553 million U.S. price-fixing accord

on December 27 2011 12:28 PM
A worker prepares a display of Sharp flat panel televisions for the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas.
A worker prepares a display of Sharp flat panel televisions for the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 7, 2009. REUTERS

Samsung Electronics Co, Sharp Corp and five other makers of liquid crystal displays agreed to pay $553 million to settle consumer and state regulatory claims that they conspired to fix prices for LCD panels in televisions, notebook computers and monitors.

The settlement is the latest arising from lawsuits alleging the creation of an illegal international cartel designed to inflate prices and stifle competition in the LCD panel market between 1999 and 2006, affecting billions of dollars of U.S. commerce.

In December 2006, authorities in Japan, Korea, the European Union and the United States revealed a probe into alleged anti-competitive activity among LCD panel manufacturers. Many companies and executives have since pleaded guilty to criminal antitrust violations and paid more than $890 million in fines.

The latest payout includes $539 million to resolve claims by indirect purchasers that bought televisions and computers with thin film transistor LCDs, as well as claims by eight states: Arkansas, California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New York, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Five of the companies will pay more than $14 million to settle civil fine and penalty law claims by the states, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.

This price-fixing scheme manipulated the playing field for businesses that abide by the rules, and left consumers to pay artificially higher costs for televisions, computers and other electronics, Schneiderman said in a statement on Tuesday.

The accord calls for Samsung to pay $240 million, Sharp $115.5 million and Taiwan-based Chimei Innolux Corp $110 million, settlement papers filed on Friday with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco show.

Hitachi Displays Ltd will pay about $40 million, HannStar Display Corp, $25.6 million; Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd, $5.3 million, and Epson Imaging Devices Corp, $2.85 million, the court documents show.

The settling companies also agreed to establish antitrust compliance programs and to help prosecute other defendants.

Court approval is required, and the settling companies continue to dispute the allegations, the papers show.

Other defendants have yet to settle, including Taiwan-based AU Optronics Corp, one of the largest LCD panel manufacturers; South Korea's LG Display Co and Toshiba Corp.

Representatives for AU Optronics and Schneiderman did not immediately respond to emailed requests for a comment.

The accord follows a settlement this month by eight companies, including Samsung and Sharp, to pay $388 million to settle litigation by direct purchasers of the LCD panels.

The case is In re: TFT-LCD (Flat Panel) Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 07-md-01827.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Dave Zimmerman and Tim Dobbyn)

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