Hannstar coughs up $30 million for LCD price fixing conspiracy

HannStar Display Corporation, a manufacturer and seller of thin-film transistor-liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) panels, has agreed to plead guilty and to pay a $30 million criminal fine for its role in a global conspiracy, the Department of Justice said.

The company based in Taipei, Taiwan was hauled up against the courts for fixing the prices of TFT-LCD panels sold globally between September 14, 2001, to January 31, 2006 the Department of Justice has said.

HannStar is charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum fine of $100 million for corporations. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

According to the plea agreement, which is subject to court approval, HannStar has agreed to cooperate with the department’s ongoing TFT-LCD investigation.

HannStar’s TFT-LCD panels are used in computer monitors and notebooks, televisions, mobile phones, and other electronic devices. By the end of the conspiracy period, the worldwide market for TFT-LCD panels was valued at $70 billion. Companies directly affected by the LCD price-fixing conspiracy are some of the largest computer and television manufacturers in the world, including Apple, Dell, and Hewlett Packard.

Christine Varney, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, said: “The Antitrust Division has thus far charged seven companies and 17 executives as a result of its investigation into the LCD industry, and we are committed to vigorously prosecuting corporations and individuals who engage in this type of price fixing scheme.”

According to the charge, HannStar carried out the conspiracy by agreeing during meetings, conversations, and communications to charge prices of TFT-LCD panels at certain pre-determined levels and issuing price quotations in accordance with the agreements reached. As a part of the conspiracy, HannStar exchanged information on sales of TFT-LCD panels for the purpose of monitoring and enforcing adherence to the agreed-upon prices.

Including today’s charge, as a result of this investigation, seven companies have pleaded guilty or have agreed to plead guilty and have been sentenced to pay or have agreed to pay criminal fines totaling more than $890 million. Additionally, 17 executives have been charged to date in the department’s ongoing investigation.

HannStar isn’t the first company to be pulled up for LCD price fixing. In April a sales exec for Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp was jailed in the US for participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of LCD. In March this year Dell also sued  five LCD makers, complaining that they fixed prices for products.

And in January Electrograph Systems Inc  sued Epson, Hitachi, Sharp, Toshiba, Toshiba Matsushita, Sanyo, LG Display, Samsung, AU Optronics, Chi Mei Optoelectronics, CMO Japan, Nexgen Mediatech, Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Tatung, Hannstar Display and Mitsui & Co claiming price fixing.