Jurors in AU Optronics Corp’s (AUO, 友達光電) price-fixing case began deliberating in federal court in San Francisco on Thursday, more than two years after US regulators accused the company of violating antitrust laws.
AUO, Taiwan’s second-largest LCD maker, was charged in 2009 with participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of LCD panels, used in computers and other devices, that netted at least US$500 million and raised costs for consumers. Five company executives also are on trial.
The executives met with competitors secretly in hotel rooms, karaoke bars and other locations in Taipei from 2001 to 2006 to set LCD prices in response to an oversupply that pushed down prices by 40 percent, government lawyers told the jury during an eight-week trial.
Lawyers for the company and the executives denied their clients fixed prices and told the jury that the government lacked specific evidence that they entered into illegal agreements. The meetings were a way of monitoring market trends and garnering price information, which is not illegal, they said.
AUO is the only LCD maker charged with price-fixing by the US to take its case to trial. Since 2008, rivals including LG Display Co, Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd (中華映管), Chimei Innolux Corp (奇美電子) and Sharp Corp, have agreed to plead guilty and paid more than US$860 million in fines.
Price-fixing carries a maximum penalty of a US$1 million fine and 10 years in prison. The government can seek damages of as much as three times the gain from price-fixing.