Largest Taiwanese LCD producer AU Optronics and six executives indicted for participating in LCD price-fixing conspiracy, the U.S. Department of Justice announced today.
The indictment, returned last night and filed today in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, charges that AU Optronics Corporation participated in a conspiracy to fix the prices of TFT-LCD panels sold worldwide from Sept. 14, 2001, to Dec. 1, 2006. AU Optronics Corporation, its American subsidiary, AU Optronics Corporation America, and six AU Optronics? executives, each a resident of Taiwan, participated in the conspiracy at various times during the alleged conspiracy time period, the Department of Justice said.
Companies directly affected by the LCD price-fixing conspiracy include some of the largest computer and television manufacturers in the world, including Apple, Dell and Hewlett Packard.
According to the one count felony charge, AU Optronics and its executives, who are current employees or members of the board of directors for the company, carried out the conspiracy by agreeing to fix prices of TFT-LCD panels during meetings and issuing price quotations in accordance with the agreements reached. As a part of the conspiracy, executives from AU Optronics and its American subsidiary also exchanged information on sales of TFT-LCD panels for the purpose of monitoring and enforcing adherence to the agreed-upon prices.
AU Optronics, which is based in Hsinchu, Taiwan, AU Optronics Corporation America and six of its executives are charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act. The maximum penalty for the conviction of a Sherman Act violation is 10 years in prison, a $1 million fine for individuals and a $100 million fine for corporations. The maximum fines 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.
In a statement issued in Taiwan on Friday, AU said it was disappointed by the action.
"AUO has cooperated with the DOJ and other authorities in their investigations of the TFT-LCD industry since they began in December of 2006 and is disappointed with the DOJ's action today. When institutions are confronted with allegations of wrongdoing, it is tempting to look for someone to blame, even its own managers or employees. Regardless of what others may do, that is not the way AUO does business and is not the path it chooses now.
AUO believes the facts of the case do not warrant such charges, as shown, among others, by the intense competition within the industry which has benefitted consumers as shown by the steep decline in prices over the years for TFT-LCD panels. AUO has achieved its technical and market success through the hard work of its many dedicated and talented employees, and has long been a leading innovator in the TFT-LCD industry. AUO is proud of what its employees have accomplished and will stand with them in defending against these allegations. AUO?s culture of innovation remains strong and will continue as it expands into solar energy solutions and pursues its vision as a green service provider.
The Company believes in the integrity and fairness of the U.S. Justice System and so will continue to defend itself. Despite AUO?s strongly-held views, the company will continue to review the matter and take appropriate actions as the case progresses. The company believes that the indictment will not have a material adverse impact to the Company's normal operations currently."
As a result of this ongoing investigation, six companies have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to pay criminal fines totaling more than $860 million. Additionally, including today?s indictment, 17 executives have been charged to date in the department?s ongoing investigation, the Justice Department said.
The companies that have pleaded guilty include Taiwan?s Chi Mei and Chunghwa Picture Tubes, LG Display and Sharp . Epson Imaging Devices, and Hitachi Displays.
Today?s charges are the result of a joint investigation by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division?s San Francisco Field Office and the FBI in San Francisco.