Epson pleads guilty to LCD price fixing

Epson Imaging Devices agrees to pay a US$26 million fine, the US Department of Justice says

Japanese electronics maker Epson Imaging Devices has agreed to plead guilty and pay a US$26 million fine for the company's role in a conspiracy to fix prices of thin film transistor-liquid crystal display panels sold to Motorola, the US Department of Justice said.

Epson, a subsidiary of Seiko Epson, participated in a conspiracy to fix the prices of TFT-LCD panels sold to Motorola for use in its Razr mobile phones, according to a one-count felony charge filed Tuesday in US District Court for the Northern District of California. The conspiracy affecting Razr phones lasted from late 2005 to mid-2006, the DOJ said.

Epson has agreed to cooperate with the DOJ's ongoing antitrust investigation into price fixing for LCDs and other monitors, the DOJ said. The plea agreement must still be approved by the court.

TFT-LCD panels are used in computer monitors and notebooks, televisions, mobile phones and other electronic devices. In 2006, the worldwide market for TFT-LCD panels was approximately US$70 billion, according to the DOJ. Epson was known as Sanyo Epson Imaging Devices during the conspiracy.

The DOJ accused Epson of meeting with competitors and agreeing to set prices of TFT-LCDs to be sold to Motorola. Epson issued price quotes based on the agreements reached and exchanged information on sales of TFT-LCDs sold to Motorola, for the purpose of monitoring and enforcing adherence to the agreed-upon prices, the DOJ said.

Spokespeople for Epson did not immediately return e-mail messages seeking comment on the charges.

Tuesday's charge is the latest in a series of charges coming out of the DOJ's Antitrust Division's San Francisco field office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation there, the DOJ said.

On December 15, LG Display pleaded guilty to price-fixing LCDs and was sentenced to pay a US$400 million criminal fine. On December 16, Sharp pleaded guilty to participating in three separate conspiracies to fix the prices of TFT-LCD panels sold to Dell, Apple Computer and Motorola, and was sentenced to pay a $120 million criminal fine.

On January 14, Chunghwa Picture Tubes pleaded guilty to participating in the same worldwide conspiracy as LG, and was sentenced to pay a $65 million criminal fine. On May 22, Hitachi Displays pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to fix the prices of TFT-LCD panels sold to Dell for use in desktop monitors and notebook computers, and was sentenced to pay a $31 million criminal fine.

Nine executives also have been charged in the DOJ's ongoing investigation.

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