AU Optronics convicted of U.S. price fixing

Taiwan-based AUO has been found guilty of fixing the price of liquid-crystal display panels.

A federal jury in San Francisco has found AU Optronics Corp. guilty of colluding with rival firms to fix the price of electronics.

The corporation, a merger formed between Acer Display Technology and Unipac Optoelectronics Corp. in 2001, is one of Taiwan's largest manufacturers of computer and television display panels, and the 4th largest LCD maker in the world.

AU Optronics, its U.S. subsidiary, its vice chairman and a senior vice president were found guilty of participation in the scheme, which involved fixing the market prices of liquid-crystal display panels.

The verdict could leave the corporation with a fine of up to $1 billion.

Two other executive were found not guilty, and a fifth executive's guilt could not be reached by a unanimous decision in court.

According to reports, AUO met covertly with rival counterparts in hotels, bars and tea rooms across Taiwan under the alias of 'crystal meetings' over the course of 5 years, in order to agree and set market pricing.

Federal prosecutors told jurors at the hearing that the scheme was implemented due to oversupply causing the price of liquid-crystal display panels to slide by 40 percent.

The Taiwan-based company already plans to appeal. After the court decision, AU Optronics said in a statement it was "deeply disappointed", and "intends to appeal the verdict and any fine". The appeal process could last over a year if taken further.

No other firm decided to take the issue to trial. Other companies involved, including Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp., LG Display Co. and Sharp Corp., pleaded guilty and consequentially paid more than $890 million in fines. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd agreed an early deal in order to avoid prosecution.

If the appeal does not go in the company's favour, it will not be caught unprepared. AUO is already making provisions quarterly to pay conviction fines and legal fees if necessary.

Image credit: CNET