Criminal trial kicks off against Taiwan LCD firm

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 10, 2012 1:49 PM
Criminal trial kicks off against Taiwan LCD firm

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Executives met over 60 times at luxury hotels to fix prices of liquid crystal display panels, a conspiracy which illegally cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars, a U.S. prosecutor said in court on Tuesday.

The government embarked on a rare criminal trial against a publicly traded company, AU Optronics, as lawyers delivered opening statements in a San Francisco federal court.

AU Optronics, one of Taiwan's largest firms, was indicted in 2010 in Northern California for fixing prices of LCD panels.

Several other companies, including LG Electronics, have already pleaded guilty in the LCD probe, while Samsung Electronics cut an early deal to avoid prosecution.

However, AU Optronics and five of its current and former executives -- including Lai-Juh Chen, the former chief executive who is still a top executive at the company -- pleaded not guilty. If convicted the executives could face prison, while the company could be subject to hundreds of millions of dollars in fines.

AU's market capitalization is roughly $3.8 billion.

"Instead of competing, these executives and these corporations were conspiring," assistant U.S. attorney Peter Huston told jurors on Tuesday.

Executives kept notes of their secret meetings, Huston said, and AU personnel attended almost all of those sessions.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the documents don't lie," he said.

Attorneys for the company and executives are expected to deliver their opening statements later on Tuesday.

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is United States v. Hsuan Bin Chen et al, 09-cr-00110.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

(This story corrects the third paragraph to show indictment was in 2010, not 2011.)