Gov’t to offer aid to LCD makers fined by S. Korea

The China Post news staff

The China Post news staff–Executives of major Taiwan liquid crystal display (LCD) suppliers were reluctant to make formal responses to the levying of hefty fines on their alleged price fixing on the South Korean market. But officials at the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) said yesterday they are ready to offer assistance to the enterprises when necessary. Seoul’s antitrust agency said on Sunday that it had fined 10 of the world’s leading flat panel makers in Korea and Taiwan a total of 194 billion Korea won (US$175 million) for price fixing many years ago. The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) of Korea said firms subject to penalties included Samsung Electronics and LG Display of South Korea and AU Optronics and Chimei Innolux from Taiwan for their collusion to control prices of panels for computers and televisions during the period from 2001 to 2006.

“They colluded on minimum prices of panels, pricing policies on each product type, timing of price increases and a ban on cash rebates,” the FTC said in a statement. The offenders also included Taiwan’s Chunghwa Picture Tubes and HannStar Display as well as the Taiwanese and Japanese units of both Samsung Electronics and LG Display, it said. FTC officials ruled that executives from the firms involved had held as many as 200 secret meetings over six years to agree on cutting or suspending production to prevent prices from falling and to exchange confidential information such as sales plans. “They were aware that such actions were illegal and kept their gatherings and information secret, said the statement of the commission. These firms have controlled a combined 80 percent share in the global LCD market, the FTC said, adding the cartel hurt consumers by increasing prices of computers, laptops and televisions. Samsung Electronics, the world’s top flat screen maker, and its overseas units were slapped with the heaviest fine of 97.2 billion won, followed by 65.5 billion won for LG Display and its foreign affiliates. The fines by the FTC — the largest it has ever imposed for a case of international price fixing in Korea — came three years after several major Asian LCD makers, including LG, were fined after a similar U.S. investigation.

The European Commission also fined six Asian makers of LCD screens a total of 649 million euros (US$860 million) last December for operating for almost five years as a cartel. Samsung said it respected the regulator’s decision and would abide by it. LG Display however said it opposed the ruling and would appeal to the Seoul court to reduce the fine on the grounds that it had fully cooperated with the investigation. Executives of Taiwan’s AU Optronics and Chimei Innolux said they would rather not to make any formal comments for now before receiving and studying the formal ruling and documents from Korea’s FTC. Senior officials at the MOEA said in Taipei that companies involved in the legal case should have the most sufficient information to put up a defense in the judicial case because they themselves had planned and managed manufacturing and marketing operations. But the ministry is ready to provide assistance if the companies think that request for the MOEA aid in the case is necessary, they added.