Samsung, LG and others hit with record $1.92bn EU fine over CRT screen cartels

Back in the days of cathode ray tube PC monitors and TVs, did you ever feel you were being charged too much? Chances are you were: the European Commission has just levied a record-breaking €1.47bn ($1.92bn) fine on big names such as Samsung, LG and Toshiba for forming price-fixing cartels between 1996-2006.

There were two CRT cartels at play: one for computer monitors (Samsung, Philips, LG and Chunghwa) and the other for TVs (same companies again, plus Panasonic, Toshiba, Technicolor and MTPD, which is now a Toshiba subsidiary). Chunghwa gets off as it blew the whistle on the cartels, while Samsung, Philips and Technicolor get reduced fines because they cooperated in the investigation – the others all get full-fat fines.

According to competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia, these were among the most organized cartels his antitrust department has ever seen:

“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 70 percent 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 [European Economic Area], and ultimately the harm it caused to the European consumers over the years.”

The cartelists apparently called their price-fixing pow-wows “green meetings”, because the participants would go play golf afterwards. Documents uncovered during the investigation contained gems such as these:

  • “Producers need to avoid price competition through controlling their production capacity”.
  • “Please dispose the following document after reading it”.
  • “Everybody is requested to keep it as secret as it would be serious damage if it is open to customers or European Commission”.

Textbook indeed.

After taking the cooperation reductions into account, the fine breakdown looks like this:

  • Philips – €240.2m
  • LG – €179.1m
  • Philips and LG (jointly) – €322.9m
  • Panasonic – €157.5m
  • Panasonic, Toshiba and MTPD (jointly) – €86.7m
  • Samsung – €81.4m
  • Technicolor – €38.6m
  • Toshiba – €28m
  • Panasonic and MTPD (jointly) – €7.9m