LCD Maker Pleads Guilty to Price Fixing

Chi Mei Optoelectronics, a Taiwanese maker of TFT-LCDs (thin-film transistor-liquid crystal displays), has agreed to plead guilty and pay US$220 million in fines for its role in an international conspiracy to fix LCD prices, the U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Chi Mei on Wednesday was charged with one count of price fixing in violation of the U.S. Sherman Act, the nation's antitrust law, for participating in a conspiracy to fix LCD prices between September 2001 and December 2001, the DOJ said in a press release. Chi Mei has agreed to cooperate with the agency's ongoing investigation of LCD price fixing as part of its plea agreement in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the DOJ said.

A Chi Mei representative wasn't immediately available for comment.

TFT-LCD panels are used in computer monitors and notebooks, televisions, mobile phones and other electronic devices. By the end of the conspiracy, the worldwide market for TFT-LCD panels was about $70 billion a year, the DOJ said.

Companies that were affected by the LCD price-fixing conspiracy are some of the largest computer and television manufacturers in the world, including Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, the DOJ said.

Chi Mei, based in Tainan, Taiwan, agreed during meetings, conversations and communications to charge prices of TFT-LCD panels at predetermined levels, the DOJ said. Chi Mei exchanged information on sales of TFT-LCD panels with other manufacturers for the purpose of monitoring and enforcing adherence to the agreed-upon prices, the agency said.

Including Wednesday's charges, six companies have pleaded guilty or have agreed to plead guilty and have been sentenced to pay or have agreed to pay criminal fines totaling more than $860 million. In addition, nine executives have been charged in the DOJ's ongoing investigation.

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