AU Optronics Corp (AUO, 友達光電) executive Steven Leung (梁兆龍) must defend himself a second time against charges he was an “integral part” of a liquid-crystal display screen price-fixing conspiracy that has already cost the company a US$500 million penalty.
Prosecutors were set to tell a jury in San Francisco federal court yesterday that Leung, an executive at the Taiwanese company’s desktop-display unit, had pricing authority for computer monitor panels, was responsible for the Dell Inc and Hewlett-Packard Co accounts and was a key player in meetings held from 2001 to 2006 where prices were fixed, according to court filings.
A jury in March convicted Hsinchu-based AU Optronics, vice chairman Chen Hsuan-bin (陳炫彬) and a senior vice president, Hui Hsiung (熊暉), while deadlocking on the charges against Leung, leading US government lawyers to retry his case. He has pleaded not guilty.
“Leung was an AUO ‘contact window’ for the co-conspirators,” Heather Tewksbury, a US Justice Department attorney, said in court filings. “He was effective at implementing the conspiracy.”
The executives secretly met with competitors in hotel rooms, karaoke bars and other locations in Taipei from 2001 to 2006 to set LCD prices in response to an oversupply that pushed down prices by 40 percent, the government said in court filings.
Leung’s lawyers claim that the government’s key witness, an AU Optronics employee, has testified that he did not know whether executives in Taiwan had been meeting with competitors to fix prices.
The meetings were a way of monitoring market trends and garnering price information, which is not illegal, they said in court filings.
AU Optronics was the only LCD maker charged with price-fixing by the US to take its case to trial.
Since 2008, rivals including LG Display Co, Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd (中華映管), Chimei Optoelectronics Corp (奇美電子) and Sharp Corp all agreed to plead guilty and pay more than US$890 million in fines.
Seventeen executives have been charged and 10 have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison, the US Justice Department said in March.
US District Judge Susan Illston, who is presiding over Leung’s trial, ordered AU Optronics to pay US$500 million, half the penalty the Justice Department had sought.
AU Optronics and its executives have appealed the convictions.