Samsung, Philips and LG and others fined €1.47bn for TV price-fixing cartel

5 Dec 2012

Major consumer tech giants Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Toshiba, Philips and a number of other firms have been fined €1.47bn by EU antitrust regulators for fixing the prices of TV and CRT monitors over the course of a decade.

The European Commission said the cosy cartels were responsible for colluding to fix the prices of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and cathode-ray tube (CRT) devices and sharing markets at ‘green meetings’, a euphemism for a round of golf.

Preparation and implementation were carried out through lower-level meetings, often referred to as ‘glass meetings’, on a quarterly, monthly, sometimes even weekly basis. Meetings were held in various locations in Asia (Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong) and Europe (Amsterdam, Budapest, Glasgow, Paris and Rome). The cartels operated worldwide.

The cartels operated in the years 1996 to 2006 and the impact of their price-fixing could be particularly harmful to consumers when you consider that up to 70pc of the value of a PC screen was its CRT.

The fine is the biggest since a car glass cartel was broken up by the European Commission and fined €1.38bn.

Textbook cartels

Commission vice-president in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: “These cartels for cathode ray tubes are ‘textbook cartels’: they feature all the worst kinds of anticompetitive behaviour that are strictly forbidden to companies doing business in Europe.

“Cathode ray tubes were a very important component in the making of television and computer screens. They accounted for 50 to 70pc of the price of a screen. This gives an indication of the serious harm this illegal behaviour has caused both to television and computer screen producers in the EEA, and ultimately the harm it caused to the European consumers over the years,” Almunia said.

The fines administered by the European Commission were as follows: Panasonic €147.4m; Samsung €150.8m; Toshiba €28m; and Technicolour €38.6m. Two Panasonic subsidiaries were also fined.

Taiwanese firm Chunghwa escaped fines because it blew the whistle on the cartel. Otherwise its fines would have been €8.3m for the TV cartel and €8.5m for the computer monitor cartel.

The European Commission investigation also revealed that the companies were well aware they were breaking the law.

For instance, in a document found during the Commission’s inspections, a warning goes as follows: “Everybody is requested to keep it as secret as it would be serious damage if it is open to customers or European Commission.”

The participants were therefore taking precautions to avoid being in possession of anticompetitive documents. Some documents spelled out, for example: “Please dispose the following document after reading it.”

EU Parliament image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years