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LCD Maker Pleads Guilty In Price Fixing Scheme

Chi Mei Optoelectronics will pay $220 million in fines for conspiring with other TFT-LCD companies to set prices for the displays.

A Taiwanese maker of LCD panels has become the sixth company to agree to plead guilty in a price-fixing conspiracy that affected some of the largest manufacturers of devices using LCDs, including Apple, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard.

Chi Mei Optoelectronics also agreed in a plea agreement announced Wednesday by the U.S. Justice Department to pay $220 million in fines. The company pleaded guilty to a single felony count that said it participated in a conspiracy to fix the prices of TFT-LCD panels sold worldwide from Sept. 14, 2001 to Dec. 1, 2006. Under the agreement, which is subject to approval by a federal court in San Francisco, Chi Mei has agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Justice Department's ongoing antitrust investigation.

Chi Mei is accused of conspiring with other companies to set prices of TFT-LCDs, a type of liquid crystal display panel, and to issue price quotations in accordance with the agreement among the companies, the Justice Department said. As part of the conspiracy, Chi Mei exchanged information on sales of TFT-LCD panels to monitor and enforce adherence to the agreed-upon prices.

Chi Mei, based in Tainan, Taiwan, is charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act. The manufacturer is the sixth company to plead guilty or agree to plead guilty in the conspiracy. The defendants have agreed to pay or have already paid a total of more than $860 million, the Justice Department said.

Other LCD manufacturers that have pleaded guilty in the case include Epson Imaging Devices and Hitachi Displays. The companies that have reached plea agreements include Chungwa Picture Tubes, LG Display, and Sharp.

The Justice Department said the worldwide market for TFT-LCD panels at the end of the conspiracy period was valued at $70 billion. Mobile phone maker Nokia and AT&T have sued some of the LCD makers for damages resulting from price fixing.

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