The European Commission has landed six LCD panel makers with a collective fine of over $800 million for a price-fixing cartel that operated between 2001 and 2006. Samsung, for snitching on fellow fixers, had its fine nixed.
Samsung, LG, AU Optronics, Chimei InnoLux, Chungwa Picture Tubes, and HannStar Display are the six companies in trouble for operating a cartel to fix the prices of LCD display units, affecting prices of HDTVs, computer displays and the like. About 60 meetings between company representatives happened during the period October 2001 to February 2006, and minimum prices and ranges were fixed. The companies were aware that what they were doing was against the law and attempted to cover up the cartel’s actions–even circulating memos that warned people to keep the affair secret. The motivation for the cartel is clear: The HDTV market was just beginning to boom at this time, and there were billions of dollars of potential profits at stake.
The Vice President of Competition Policy in the EC Joaquin Almunia noted “foreign companies, like European ones, need to understand that if they want to do business in Europe they must play fair.”
Because Samsung revealed the existence of the cartel to the authorities, it received a 100% reduction on its $284 million share of the total fine, in accordance with Almunia’s comment “the only understanding we will show is for those that come forward to denounce a cartel and help prove its existence.”
This is just the latest billion-dollar range fine imposed by European authorities against companies that were operating in an anticompetitive or anti-consumer manner. In 2008 Microsoft landed a $1.4 billion fine for anticompetitive behavior, Intel landed a $1.4 billion fine in 2009 for controlling the CPU market and quashing the opportunities of its chief rival AMD. This doesn’t bode well for Google, which recently became the subject of a new EU investigation over monopolistic behavior in the search market.
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