Former Chi Mei Executive Pleads Guilty to LCD Price-fixing

A former executive from LCD maker Chi Mei has agreed to plead guilty and serve jail time in the U.S. for participating in a global conspiracy to fix prices of thin-film transistor-liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) panels, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.

Chen-Lung Kuo, a former director of sales at the Taiwan-based Chi Mei, conspired with executives at other LCD manufacturers to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing TFT-LCD prices, the DOJ said in a one-count felony charge filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. Kuo participated in the conspiracy from about April 2004 to December 2006, the DOJ said in a press release.

Kuo is charged with violating the U.S. Sherman Act prohibiting antitrust behavior, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a US$1 million fine for individuals. The fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

A representative of Chi Mei didn't immediately return a phone call seeking 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 valued at $70 billion, the DOJ said.

Companies affected by the LCD price-fixing conspiracy included some of the largest computer and television manufacturers in the world such as Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, the agency said.

Kuo met with representatives of competing LCD makers and agreed to charge the prices set by the group of companies, the DOJ said. The participating companies exchanged information on LCD sales for the purpose of monitoring compliance with the agreed prices, the agency said.

The DOJ's price-fixing investigation has resulted in more than $890 million in criminal fines. Including Kuo, the DOJ has charged 19 executives and eight companies with violations of U.S. antitrust law.

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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