AU Optronics fined $500 million for LCD price-fixing

The sentence on AU Optronics and two employees was lower than the government had asked

AU Optronics was fined US$500 million by a San Francisco court on Thursday, and two of its former executives were sentenced to serve three-year prison terms and pay fines in connection with a LCD price-fixing conspiracy, the Department of Justice said.

The sentence by a Judge of the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco division was lower than what DOJ wanted.

In a filing to the court on Wednesday, DOJ reiterated that a $1 billion fine against the Taiwanese LCD maker and the ten-year terms of imprisonment and $1 million fines against its top executives recommended by the government are "necessary, appropriate, and equitable sentences in this case." They are also the maximum sentences for the offense.

The defendants are remorseless having refused to accept responsibility or to provide any assistance that would justify a reduction in their sentences, DOJ said in the filing.

The indictment charged that AU Optronics participated in a worldwide price-fixing conspiracy from Sept. 14, 2001, to Dec. 1, 2006, and that its U.S subsidiary joined the conspiracy as early as 2003. The U.S. subsidiary was also sentenced on Thursday.

The companies and former executives were found guilty in March following an eight-week trial. A jury found that the convicted companies and former executives fixed the prices of thin-film transistor LCD panels sold into the U.S. The prices were fixed during monthly meetings with their competitors secretly held in hotel conference rooms, karaoke bars and tea rooms around Taiwan, DOJ said. The LCDs are used in computers, mobile phones and other electronic devices.

AU Optronics sold more than $2.3 billion worth of LCD panels in the U.S. during the price-fixing conspiracy, the DOJ said in a filing earlier this month. The conspiring companies sold $71.9 billion in price-fixed panels worldwide, with about $23.5 billion LCD panels sold in the U.S. The conspiracy particularly targeted the U.S. and its hi-tech companies like Apple, HP, and Dell, DOJ said.

Former AU Optronics president Hsuan Bin Chen was sentenced to serve three years in prison and to pay a $200,000 fine. Another former AU Optronics executive vice president Hui Hsiung was also sentenced to serve three years in prison and to pay a $200,000 fine, according to DOJ. The judge's order was not immediately available on the court website.

AU Optronics and its U.S. subsidiary were also placed on probation for three years, and are required to adopt an antitrust compliance program and to appoint an independent corporate compliance monitor, DOJ said.

Eight companies, including AU Optronics, have been so far convicted of charges arising out of the department's ongoing investigation, and have been sentenced to pay fines totaling $1.39 billion.

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John Ribeiro

IDG News Service

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