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Hitachi Admits to LCD Price Fixing; Screws Buyers

If you bought an LCD panel manufactured by Hitachi, you likely paid more than you were suppose to. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Hitachi has admitted to fixing the prices of its LCD panels.

In what seems like a new trend among LCD manufacturers, Hitachi confessed that it fixed prices for LCD panels sold to American computer maker Dell, between 2001 and 2004. The DOJ has filed a one count felony against Hitachi, charging the company with "conspiracy to fix the prices of TFT-LCD sold to Dell for use in desktop monitors and notebook computers from April 1, 2001, through March 31, 2004." While no persons have been arrested in relation to the charge, Hitachi will pay a USD $31 million fine in restitution.

"Hitachi joins three other multinational companies who have admitted to their involvement in fixing prices for LCD panels sold to U.S. companies and that have already paid criminal fines totaling more than $585 million," said Scott D. Hammond, an Assistant Attorney General with the DOJ’s Antitrust Division. "This case should send a strong message to multinational companies operating in the United States that when it comes to enforcing the U.S. antitrust laws we mean business."

The conspiracy charge against Hitachi accuses the company of taking meetings with Dell, at which point both companies agreed to buy sell and buy LCD panels at agreed upon levels. Following the sales, Hitachi was given information regarding the panels in order to ensure that its price agreements with Dell were honored.

2008 was a banner year for confessing to LCD price fixing. Sharp, LG Display and Chungwha Picture Tubes all admitted to such practices. Companies on the receiving end included Dell, Apple and Motorola, and the panels in question were for computers, iPods and cell phones. Sharp and Chunghwa paid fines of $120 million and $65 million, respectively, while LG Display was slapped with a massive $400 million fine. Several LG and Chunghwa executives are currently serving jail time stemming from DOJ investigations.

With four major electronics companies admitting to LCD price fixing, one has to wonder whether or not this unsavory trend will continue. The Dept. of Justice has accrued over $580 million in fines against LCD price fixers. What LCD maker will be next?