A San Francisco judge sentenced two Taiwanese executives to three years in prison plus a huge fine for price fixing the cost of liquid crystal display screens.
This is the largest criminal antitrust case every prosecuted by the Justice Department. AU Optronics Corporation is the Taiwanese company sentenced Thursday. They are by no means the only company that conspired, but they are the only one that decided to fight it in court and they lost.
The former president of AU Optronics and his executive vice president walked out of federal court Thursday afternoon after being ordered to surrender to federal authorities at the end of November to begin serving a three year prison sentence. Their former company was ordered to pay a half a billion dollar fine.
"Optronics was the company that tried to fight this. Other companies like LG and Sharp also participated in this conspiracy, but they settled and admitted guilt earlier," said Joe Ridout from Consumer Action.
Consumer watchdogs applauded the prison time for Hsuan Bin Chen and Hui Hsiung, but the three years was less than a third of what the government asked for and the half billion dollar fine was only half of what prosecutors argued was justified.
Attorney Dennis Riordan represented AU Optronics. He said, "The government sought a penalty of $1 billion and the judge saw fit to impose half of that and there are very, very substantial appellate issues about whether and to what extent American antitrust law applies to a Taiwanese corporation and we'll be raising those on appeal," said Dennis Riordan/attorney for au optronics.
The conspiracy to fix prices of LCD screens began in 2001. Among the companies that have agreed to settle: Toshiba, LG, Samsung -- together they've paid more than a billion dollars.
"This is estimated to be about $25 per consumer. You can go to LCDclass.com and find out more information. You have to sign up by December if you want to get this restitution, but there is a path available for consumer to get money back," said Ridout.
Besides AU Optronics, seven other manufactures of LCD screens pleaded guilty. 12 executives have been convicted and sentenced to prison. Those sentences range from several months to the three-year sentence that were handed down Thursday.
If you bought an LCD TV or computer and you want to know if you were overcharged, you can go to lcdclass.com.