Taiwanese LCD Maker Pleads Guilty to Price Fixing

HannStar Display, a Taiwanese maker of liquid crystal displays (LCDs), has agreed to plead guilty and pay a US$30 million fine for participating in a global conspiracy to fix prices of the displays, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

HannStar, based in Taipei, participated in a price-fixing conspiracy involving thin-film transistor liquid crystal displays (TFT-LCDs)

between September 2001 and January 2006, the DOJ said in a one-count felony charge filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. HannStar, in a plea agreement, has agreed to cooperate with the DOJ's ongoing price-fixing investigation.

The DOJ has charged seven companies and 17 executives in the price-fixing investigation since late 2008.

"We are committed to vigorously prosecuting corporations and individuals who engage in this type of price-fixing scheme," Christine Varney, assistant attorney general in charge of the DOJ's Antitrust Division, said in a statement.

HannStar did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the guilty plea.

TFT-LCD panels are used in computer monitors and laptops, television sets, mobile phones and other electronic devices. The worldwide market for TFT-LCDs was $70 billion a year by the end of the conspiracy, the DOJ said. Companies affected by the price-fixing scheme were some of the largest computer and television manufacturers in the world, including Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, the agency said.

HannStar participated in meetings and other communications with competitors during which the companies agreed to set the prices of LCD panels, the DOJ said. HannStar exchanged sales information with competitors in an effort to monitor and enforce the agreed-upon prices, the agency said.

HannStar is charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, which can carry a fine of $100 million for corporations, although the fine can be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by victims.

The seven companies charged in the price-fixing conspiracy have agreed or have been sentenced to pay fines of more than $930 million.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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