LG Display, Chi Mei Fined by EU Over LCD-Panel Cartel

LG Display Co. and Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp. were among Asian companies fined 648.9 million euros ($860 million) by the European Union for fixing prices of liquid-crystal display panels.

“Foreign companies, like European ones, have an obligation to respect competition rules when they do business in Europe,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told reporters in Brussels today. South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co., the world’s largest LCD maker, wasn’t fined because it informed on the cartel and provided “valuable information,” Almunia said.

The LCD panels are the main component of thin, flat monitors used in televisions, computer monitors and notebooks. The companies sold panels in Europe worth about 7 billion euros during the cartel, which spanned from October 2001 to February 2006, the EU said. The fine doesn’t cover smaller screens used for handhelds or mobile phones.

Chi Mei, which merged with Innolux Display Corp. in March to form Chimei Innolux Corp., received the largest penalty of 300 million euros. LG Display of South Korea, the second-biggest panel maker, was fined 215 million euros. Taiwan’s AU Optronics Corp. must pay a financial penalty of 116.8 million euros. Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd. of Taiwan was fined 9 million euros and HannStar Display Corp., also based in Taiwan, was fined 8.1 million euros.

Hotel Meetings

The six manufacturers in the cartel met around 60 times, usually every month in hotels in Taiwan to agree prices, including price ranges and minimum prices, and to swap information on future production plans and capacity, the commission said.

“The fact that the cartel meetings took place outside the EU is no excuse,” Almunia told reporters. “All of the discussions were clearly illegal under our EU competition rules. The evidence shows that the participants were aware of the illegality of their conduct.”

AU Optronics will appeal the decision and will “vigorously defend itself,” spokeswoman Yawen Hsiao said in an e-mailed statement.

Chunghwa said it had not yet decided whether to appeal and that it had made “sufficient” provisions to cover the fine.

Taiwan Headquarters

LG Display’s spokesman Bang-Soo Lee and James Chung, a spokesman for Samsung Electronics, didn’t immediately respond to calls and e-mails to their Seoul offices seeking comment outside normal business hours. Eddie Chen, a spokesman for Chimei Innolux, and Arthur Lu, a spokesman for HannStar didn’t respond to out-of-hours calls and e-mails to their Taiwanese headquarters.

The commission, which can fine companies as much as 10 percent of sales, considers a company’s revenue in the last year before a cartel ends, and the seriousness, duration and geographic scope of the cartel when setting its penalties.

Chi Mei, Taiwan’s biggest maker of LCDs used in televisions, computers and mobile phones, pleaded guilty to U.S. antitrust charges last year and agreed to pay $220 million in fines.

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