The European Commission (EC) has slapped seven groups of companies who manufacture cathode ray tubes (CRT) with a €1.47 billion ($1.92bn) fine for participating in either one or both of two distinct cartels between 1996 and 2006.
During this period the companies fixed prices, shared markets, allocated customers between themselves and restricted their output. One of the worldwide cartels related to CRTs found in television sets, while the other to those found in computer monitors.
Chunghwa, LG Electronics, Philips and Samsung SDI were found to have participated in both cartels, while Panasonic, Toshiba, MTPD (currently a Panasonic subsidiary) and Technicolor (formerly Thomson) participated only in the cartel relating to television tubes.
Chunghwa received full immunity by revealing the existence of the cartels to the EU, and therefore escaping fines totaling more than €17 million ($22m).
"These cartels for cathode ray tubes are 'textbook cartels': they feature all the worst kinds of anticompetitive behavior that are strictly forbidden to companies doing business in Europe," said EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia in a statement.
"Cathode ray tubes were a very important component in the making of television and computer screens. They accounted for 50 to 70% of the price of a screen. This gives an indication of the serious harm this illegal behavior has caused both to television and computer screen producers in the [European Union], and ultimately the harm it caused to the European consumers over the years."
The EC called the cartels "among the most organized cartels that the Commission has investigated," and said that those involved had "carried out the most harmful anti-competitive practices including price fixing, market sharing, customer allocation, capacity and output coordination and exchanges of commercial sensitive information."
The EC investigation found documents during its investigation that showed the companies involved were aware that they were breaking the law. One said that "everybody is requested to keep it as secret as it would be serious damage if it is open to customers or European Commission" while another told the recipients to "please dispose the following document after reading it."