By Karen Freifeld
(Reuters) - Samsung Electronics Co, Sharp Corp and five other makers of liquid crystal displays agreed to pay more than $553 million to settle consumer and state regulatory claims that they conspired to fix prices for LCD panels in televisions, notebook computers and monitors.
The settlement is the latest arising from lawsuits alleging the creation of an international cartel designed to illegally inflate prices and stifle competition in LCD panels between 1999 and 2006, affecting billions of dollars of U.S. commerce.
In December 2006, authorities in Japan, Korea, the European Union and the United States revealed a probe into alleged anti-competitive activity among LCD panel manufacturers. Many companies and executives have since pleaded guilty to criminal antitrust violations and paid more than $890 million in fines.
The latest payout includes $538.6 million to resolve claims by "indirect" purchasers that bought televisions and computers with thin film transistor LCDs, as well as claims by eight states: Arkansas, California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New York, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
It also includes payments of more than $14.7 million by five of the companies to settle civil fine and penalty law claims by the states, the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.
"This price-fixing scheme manipulated the playing field for businesses that abide by the rules, and left consumers to pay artificially higher costs for televisions, computers and other electronics," Schneiderman said in a statement on Tuesday.
The accord calls for Samsung to pay $240 million, Sharp $115.5 million and Taiwan-based Chimei Innolux Corp $110.3 million, settlement papers filed on Friday with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco show.
Hitachi Displays Ltd will pay $39 million, HannStar Display Corp, $25.7 million; Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd, $5.3 million, and Epson Imaging Devices Corp, $2.9 million, the court documents show.
The settling companies also agreed to establish antitrust compliance programs and to help prosecute other defendants.
Court approval is required, and the settling companies continue to dispute the allegations, the court documents show.
The state penalties include $6 million to be paid by Sharp, $5.7 million by Chimei, and smaller amounts by Epson, HannStar and Hitachi, a spokeswoman for Schneierman said.
Other defendants have yet to settle, including Taiwan-based AU Optronics Corp, one of the largest LCD panel manufacturers; South Korea's LG Display Co and Toshiba Corp.
An AU Optronics spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an emailed request for a comment.
The accord follows a settlement this month by eight companies, including Samsung and Sharp, to pay $388 million to settle litigation by direct purchasers of the LCD panels.
The case is In re: TFT-LCD (Flat Panel) Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 07-md-01827.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Dave Zimmerman, Tim Dobbyn and Gunna Dickson)