New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sued Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and other LCD screen makers on Friday for allegedly fixing prices for a decade, after some of them pleaded guilty to similar federal charges and paid over $890 million in fines.
The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in New York County, alleges that top executives at companies in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, and their U.S. counterparts, created a secret group that agreed on prices to be charged for liquid crystal display screens and covered up their communications.
The alleged conspiracy over LCD screens -- found in flat-screen televisions, computer monitors and mobile phones -- occurred from 1996 to 2006, and included manufacturers Samsung, AU Optronics Corp, Hitachi Ltd, LG Display Co, Sharp Corp and Toshiba Corp.
The complaint said some of the companies have pleaded guilty to federal criminal antitrust violations and paid over $890 million in fines already. Several of the plea agreements, which were made from 2008 to 2010, include prison sentences of up to 14 months.
The complaint alleges that the companies reached detailed and explicit agreements -- many of which were documented -- to set prices and price increases and to restrict output. They enforced those agreements among themselves, singling out companies that deviated from the illegal agreements and bringing them back into line.
They knew their price fixing conspiracy was illegal and actively sought to conceal its existence, it said.
Customers as a result spent hundreds of millions of dollars on screens affected by the conspiracy, Cuomo said in a statement.
My office is bringing this case to get those illegal overcharges back, he said.
Companies that pleaded guilty to the federal criminal antitrust violations and paid fines include Hitachi Displays Ltd, LG Display and its subsidiary LG Display America Inc, Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp, Sharp, Chunghwa Picture Tubes, and a unit of Seiko Epson Corp.
Representatives in the United States for Samsung, Toshiba, LG Display and Hitachi were not immediately available for comment. Most of the 20 companies that were charged are headquartered in Asia, and operate only sales and marketing offices in the United States.
(A copy of the complaint can be found here: http://bit.ly/a5pp2C)
(Reporting by Franklin Paul; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Richard Chang)