A former sales director with the Taiwan-based Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corporation has entered a plea-bargain in a San Francisco Federal Court related to charges of participating in a global conspiracy to fix the price of thin-film transistor-liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) panels, according to the Justice Department .
Under his plea agreement, which has yet to be approved by a court, Chen-Lung Kuo has agreed to serve nine months in jail, to pay a $35,000 criminal fine and to assist the department in its ongoing TFT-LCD investigation.
Kuo is arguably getting off easy, considering that violating the Sherman Act (a primary antitrust law) is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals - the fine can also be increased to twice the amount of damages in a case.
According to DOJ:
Kuo conspired with others to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing the prices of TFT-LCD panels. Kuo, a resident of Taiwan and the former vice president of sales of Chi Mei, participated in the conspiracy from as early as April 2004, to on or about Dec.1, 2006.
... Kuo participated in a conspiracy in which the participants met and agreed to charge prices of TFT-LCD panels at certain predetermined levels. The participants in that conspiracy also issued price quotations in accordance with the agreements reached and exchanged information on the sales of TFT-LCD panels for the purpose of monitoring adherence to the agreed-upon prices,
The price-fixing investigation has been ongoing since at least 2006 and Kuo's plea agreement would bring the total of fines issued to 19 executives and eight companies to $890 million.
TFT-LCD panels are used in computer monitors and notebooks, televisions, mobile phones and other electronic devices. The price-fixing scheme impacted just about every major consumer tech company selling something with a screen, including names like Apple and HP. DOJ estimates the worldwide market at the time was valued at $70 billion.
Ironically, soon after the DOJ began handing out fines a few years ago, including a $400 million penalty for LG and $120 million for Sharp, an oversupply of LCD screens and the economic downturn began depressing LCD prices.
The price-fixing conspiracy allegedly took place between 2001 and 2006.
Image by Rosa Menkman on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.