Toshiba Corp. conspired with competitors to fix the price of display screens and is liable for $87 million in damages, a U.S. jury ruled Tuesday.
The 10-member jury, after deliberating in federal court in San Francisco for less than two days, found the company liable to manufacturers that used the displays for $17 million in damages and liable to consumers, who purchased finished products, for $70 million. Under antitrust law, defendants can be assessed damages of three times the overcharge, or $261 million in the jury’s decision.
Toshiba was accused of meeting with competitors in hotel rooms to set prices for thin-film-transistor liquid crystal displays, or LCD panels, from 1999 to 2006. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of U.S. makers of digital signs, home-theater equipment, laptop computers and office networks that bought the panels.
“We’re very happy” with the verdict, said Bruce Simon, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Toshiba said it will appeal the verdict.
“Toshiba plans to pursue all available legal avenues to correct that finding,” spokesman Julius Christensen said in an emailed statement.
The company has “consistently maintained that there was no illegal activity on its part in the LCD business in the United States,” Christensen said.
Tobisha doesn’t plan to “revise projections for fiscal 2012 business performance due to this matter,” he said.
Jury forewoman Sara Alarcon said after the verdict that jurors never considered an amount for liability as high as what the plaintiffs sought. Overcharges linked to price-fixing may total $867 million, lawyers for the plaintiffs said in court filings.
“We were not presented with a smoking gun,” Alarcon said. “There was a lot of gray area.”
Toshiba was the lone defendant on trial after at least seven Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean panel makers settled buyers’ civil claims. Sharp Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. were among those that agreed to pay $927 million in settlements reached in December.
AU Optronics Corp., Taiwan’s second-largest LCD maker, reached a settlement, lawyers said in April. LG Display Co. on May 1 resolved claims by consumers in eight U.S. states. Amounts weren’t disclosed.
A U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation of LCD price-fixing led to guilty pleas by LG Display, Chunghwa Picture Tubes and Sharp. The companies agreed in 2008 and 2009 to pay $585 million in criminal fines. Toshiba wasn’t indicted in the criminal probe.
Toshiba had denied participating in a conspiracy or fixing prices. Company lawyers argued the executives met with competitors occasionally for legitimate reasons. Toshiba also said it wasn’t making the type of products that were the subject of the meetings at the hotel, which were known as the crystal meetings.
AU Optronics made similar arguments unsuccessfully in a criminal trial. The company, its vice chairman and a senior vice president were convicted in March of colluding with rivals to fix LCD prices. AU Optronics faces a fine of as much as $1 billion, according to the Justice Department.
Traders avoid charges
Tokyo prosecutors have spared two employees of trading house Sumitomo Corp. from bribery charges involving a high-level Indonesian official, according to investigative sources.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office decided in June not to indict the employees because of a lack of evidence over their alleged involvement in bribery tied to Sumitomo’s delivery of used train cars from Japan, the sources said.
The employees were suspected of violating a law against bribing foreign government officials.
The Sumitomo employees were alleged to have wined and dined the visiting senior Indonesian Transportation Ministry official in 2006 and 2007 to the tune of hundreds of thousands of yen in a bid to secure the railway car delivery project.