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Screen makers fined €649m for price-fixing cartel

The European Commission has fined six makers of flat panel screens €649 million for participating in a price-fixing cartel. Samsung received no fines because it alerted the Commission to the cartel.

The Commission is responsible for enforcing EU competition law. It said that the companies operated a price-fixing ring for liquid crystal display (LCD) screens between October 2001 and February 2006. LCD screens are used in flat panel televisions, computer monitors and laptop screens.

The companies involved in the cartel were Samsung Electronics, LG Display, AU Optronics, Chimei InnoLux Corporation, Chunghwa Picture Tubes and HannStar Display Corporation.

"During the four years, the companies agreed prices, including price ranges and minimum prices, exchanged information on future production planning, capacity utilisation, pricing and other commercial conditions," said a Commission statement. "The cartel members held monthly multilateral meetings and further bilateral meetings. In total they met around 60 times mainly in hotels in Taiwan for what they called 'the Crystal meetings'."

"These agreements had a direct impact on customers in the European Economic Area because the vast majority of televisions, computer monitors and notebooks incorporating those LCD panels and sold in the EEA comes from Asia," it said.

The Commission said that the companies knew that what they were doing was wrong because documents urged readers to keep them secret and to keep written communication about the discussions to a minimum.

"In setting the level of the fines, the Commission took into account the companies' sales of the products concerned in the EEA, the very serious nature of the infringement, its EEA-wide scope and its duration," said the Commission statement.

Fines ranged from €8.1m for HannStar Display Corporation to €300m for Chimei InnoLux Corporation. Samsung received a 100% reduction in its fine because it brought the activity to the Commission's attention.

"Foreign companies, like European ones, need to understand that if they want to do business in Europe they must play fair," said Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia. "The companies concerned knew they were breaking competition rules and took steps to conceal their illegal behaviour. The only understanding we will show is for those that come forward to denounce a cartel and help prove its existence."

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