Former Hitachi Exec Indicted on LCD Price-fixing Charges

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A grand jury in San Francisco has indicted the former senior manager of sales and marketing at Hitachi Displays for allegedly participating in a global price-fixing conspiracy for LCD panels sold to Dell, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Sakae Someya, a Japanese national, is the eighth person facing charges in the DOJ's investigation of price-fixing for Thin Film Transistor-Liquid Crystal Display (TFT-LCD) panels. Someya, who worked at Hitachi from 2001 to 2004, is charged with violating the U.S. Sherman Act, an antitrust law, which carries a maximum fine of US$1 million, or twice the loss suffered by victims, and 10 years in prison.

The indictment, filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, charges Someya with conspiring with unnamed others to suppress or eliminate competition by fixing the price of TFT-LCD panels sold to Dell for use in laptops, according to court documents. In 2006, the worldwide market for TFT-LCD screens was about $70 billion, the DOJ said.

"Practically every American consumer has been impacted by the TFT-LCD conspiracies," Scott Hammond, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the DOJ's Antitrust Division, said in a statement. "Today, the department is holding a high-level executive accountable for his conduct."

Two representatives of Hitachi didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on the indictment.

In addition to eight people, the DOJ has charged four companies in its ongoing LCD price-fixing investigation. To date, courts have imposed more than $585 million in fines related to the price-fixing charges.

Someya allegedly attended meetings with competitors to discuss the price of TFT-LCD panels sold to Dell, the DOJ said. During those meetings, representatives of LCD makers agreed to set prices, and the participants took steps to conceal the price agreements, the DOJ said.

On Dec. 15, LG Display pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to fix the prices for TFT-LCD panels and was sentenced to pay a $400 million criminal fine, the second-largest fine in DOJ Antitrust Division history.

A day later, Sharp pleaded guilty to participating in three separate conspiracies to fix the prices of TFT-LCD panels sold to Dell, Apple and Motorola and was sentenced to pay a $120 million criminal fine.

On Jan. 14, Chunghwa Picture Tubes pleaded guilty to participating in the same worldwide conspiracy as LG, and was sentenced to pay a $65 million criminal fine.

On March 10, Hitachi Displays agreed to plead guilty and pay a $31 million fine for its participation an LCD price-fixing conspiracy.

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