The DOJ got an indictment this week against a Hitachi executive, in the government’s ongoing prosecution of alleged price-fixing in the LCD monitor industry.
We first blogged on this back on November 13th, when Sharp, LG Display and Chunghwa all pled guilty to price fixing, agreeing to pay $585 million in fines. Since then, Chungwha executives also pled guilty during February.
After the Chungwha executive pleas, Hitachi itself agreed in March to plead guilty and pay $31 million in fines.
Breaking from the pattern, however, rather than a Hitachi executive subsequently pleading guilty, the feds went ahead and indicted him.
According to a DOJ press release, Tuesday’s indictment charges a Japanese national, Sakae Someya, who was an executive at Hitachi Displays Ltd. Mr. Someya is accused of taking part in a larger global conspiracy to fix the prices of LCD panels sold to Dell.
Mr. Someya is accused of agreeing to charge set prices for the screens, sharing sales information to ensure everyone was complying with the agreed prices, and trying to keep the arrangement secret. These are Sherman Act charges, with a max of 10 years in prison plus a max fine of the greater of $1 million, double the gain, or double the loss to victims.
We wonder how much of the allegedly criminal conduct is simply normal business practice in Japanese culture. After all, the keiretsu distribution system used by Japanese industry looks very much like price fixing to Western eyes.
It certainly looks to us as though the DOJ’s Antitrust Division is busting through decades of resistance to offshore enforcement of U.S. antitrust rules. Whether it is proper to impose U.S. laws on a very foreign culture… that’s another question entirely. What do you think?