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AU Optronics Price-Fixing Case Goes to Jury in San Francisco

Jurors in AU Optronics Corp.’s price-fixing case began deliberating in federal court in San Francisco today, more than two years after U.S. regulators accused the company of violating antitrust laws.

The company, Taiwan’s second-largest maker of liquid-crystal displays, was charged in 2009 with participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of LCD panels, used in computers and other devices, that netted at least $500 million and raised costs for consumers. Five company executives also are on trial.

The executives met with competitors secretly in hotel rooms, karaoke bars and other locations in Taipei from 2001 to 2006 to set LCD prices in response to an oversupply that pushed down prices by 40 percent, government lawyers told the jury during an eight-week trial.

Lawyers for the company and the executives denied their clients fixed prices and told the jury that the government lacked specific evidence that they entered into illegal agreements. The meetings were a way of monitoring market trends and garnering price information, which isn’t illegal, they said.

AU Optronics is the only LCD maker charged with price-fixing by the U.S. to take its case to trial. Since 2008, rivals including LG Display Co., Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp. and Sharp Corp. agreed to plead guilty and pay more than $860 million in fines.

Price-fixing carries a maximum penalty of a $1 million fine and 10 years in prison. The government can seek damages of as much as three times the gain from price-fixing.

The case is U.S. v. AU Optronics, 09-110, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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