WASHINGTON -- If you bought a laptop, computer monitor, or big-screen TV between 2001 and 2006, you probably were a victim of an international criminal conspiracy to fix the prices of the LCD (liquid crystal display) panels used in these products, according to an FBI press release.
Former AU Optronics Corporation president Hsuan Bin Chen and former executive vice president Hui Hsiung were both sentenced to serve three years in prison and to pay a $200,000 criminal fine. The company itself -- Taiwan's largest seller of LCD panels -- was ordered to pay a $500 million criminal fine for its role in the conspiracy. AU Optronics is one of eight companies convicted for their involvement in the conspiracy.
“This long-running price fixing conspiracy resulted in every family, school, business, charity, and government agency who bought notebook computers, computer monitors, and LCD televisions during the conspiracy to pay more for these products,” said Scott D. Hammond, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program. “The Antitrust Division will continue to pursue vigorously international cartels that target American consumers and rob them of their hard earned money.”
According to the FBI, top-level executives from a number of Asian LCD manufacturers secretly met in a Taiwan hotel room a few days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. There, they agreed on a plan to fix LCD prices in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The FBI says the group met monthly, and exchanged information on the production, shipping, supply, demand, and pricing information of LCD. The group sold their products at agreed-upon prices to some of the world’s largest technology companies who used LCD panels in their products.
Senior-level employees monitored sales in the U.S. to ensure that companies only sold the pannels at the agreed-upon prices.
In addition to the criminal fine and the sentencing of two former executives, AU Optronics was ordered to implement an internal compliance program, hire an independent corporate compliance monitor, and take out ads in U.S. and Taiwanese newspapers publicizing the criminal sanctions taken against it.
According to the FBI, these actions are meant to send a powerful message to would-be perpetrators of price-fixing and other antitrust schemes.