March 10, 2009

Hitachi Fined $31M For Price Fixing

The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday that Japan-based Hitachi Displays Ltd., a subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd., has agreed to pay $31 million for its role in conspiring to fix prices of LCD panels sold to U.S. computer maker Dell Inc.

With the Hitachi plea, which is subject to court approval, the U.S. government will have now collected more than $600 million in criminal fines originating from the LCD price-fixing.

"Hitachi joins three other multinational companies who have admitted to their involvement in fixing prices for LCD panels sold to US companies," said acting assistant attorney general Scott Hammond in a statement.

Three other firms that make LCD panels have already admitted their involvement in the price-fixing.  Japan's Sharp Corp., South Korea's LG Display Co. Ltd. and Taiwan's Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd. have paid more than $585 million in collective fines in connection with the case.

"This case should send a strong message to multinational companies operating in the United States that when it comes to enforcing the US antitrust laws we mean business," the Justice department said.

Seven Asian electronics executives have been indicted, four of whom have pleaded guilty and were sentenced to six to nine month prison terms.

A one-count felony charge was filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco charging Hitachi Displays Ltd. with conspiracy to fix the prices of LCD panels sold to Dell Inc. for use in notebook computers and desktop monitors from April 2001 to March 2004, the Justice Department said.

The court papers accuse Hitachi of participating in meetings and communications in the U.S., Japan and Korea to discuss the prices of screens sold to Dell Inc., at which time the parties agreed to set certain prices.

Last November, LG Display, formerly known as LG Philips LCD Co. Ltd, agreed to pay $400 million in connection with the LCD price-fixing conspiracy, while Chunghwa was fined $65 million dollars. 

LG Display's fine was the second-largest on record, second only to the antitrust $500 million fine levied against Swiss pharmaceutical giant F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. in 1999 for fixing the price of vitamins.

Sharp agreed to pay a $120-million fine for participating in separate conspiracies to fix the price of LCD panels sold to Apple, Motorola and Dell.  Those displays were used in monitors, laptops, mobile phones and iPods.

The global market for LCD displays is about $70 billion.  Authorities in Asia and the European Union are also investigating LCD price-fixing.


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