AU Optronics executive sentenced for LCD price-fixing

The former manager of the company's desktop display unit is sentenced to two years in prison

A former executive with AU Optronics was sentenced Monday to serve two years in prison and pay a US$50,000 fine for participating in a worldwide LCD screen price-fixing conspiracy, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Shiu Lung Leung, former senior manager of AU Optronics' desktop display business group, was sentenced for price fixing in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

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AU Optronics, based in Hsinchu, Taiwan, and its U.S. subsidiary, AU Optronics America, headquartered in Milpitas, California, were found guilty in March 2012, for participating in the thin-film transistor-liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) price-fixing conspiracy, after an eight-week trial. Also found guilty were former AU Optronics President Hsuan Bin Chen and former AU Optronics Executive Vice President Hui Hsiung.

A trial for Leung then ended in a mistrial. Monday's sentencing followed a three-week retrial that started in November and resulted in Leung's conviction. Leung's lawyer wasn't immediately available for comment on the sentencing.

The original indictment charged that AU Optronics participated in the worldwide price-fixing conspiracy from September 2001 to December 2006, with the U.S. subsidiary joining the conspiracy as early as spring 2003. The indictment charged that Leung participated in that conspiracy starting in May 2002.

LCD panels affected by the conspiracy were a major component in flat-panel computer monitors, notebook computers, and flat-screen televisions sold in the U.S., the DOJ said. The conspirators fixed the prices of LCD panels during monthly meetings with their competitors, secretly held in hotel conference rooms, karaoke bars and tea rooms around Taiwan.

"These international price-fixers caused consumers to pay inflated prices for their computer monitors, notebook computers and televisions," Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer, in charge of the DOJ's Antitrust Division, said in a statement. "Prison sentences for culpable executives, combined with substantial fines against corporate wrongdoers, are the most effective deterrents for protecting consumers from this kind of illegal cartel behavior."

Eight companies have been convicted of charges arising out of the DOJ's ongoing investigation into LCD price fixing. They have been sentenced to pay criminal fines of US $1.39 billion. The DOJ has brought charges against 22 executives, and 13 of them have been convicted and sentenced to serve prison terms ranging from six to 36 months.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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