Judge allows AU Optronics chief to leave U.S.

SAN FRANCISCO Fri Jan 14, 2011 4:07pm EST

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The CEO of one of the world's top liquid crystal display manufacturers will be allowed to travel outside the United States for the first time since criminal price-fixing charges restricted his movements, a U.S. judge ruled on Friday.

Lai-Juh Chen and five other executives at AU Optronics Corp were indicted last June, accused of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to manipulate the LCD market. The company and its executives have pleaded not guilty and are fighting the charges in a San Francisco federal court.

While in Taiwan Chen will not be allowed to meet with any of his co-defendants, some of whom may be there at the same time, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered.

Chen's attorney, Brian Getz, said in court on Friday that the purpose of Chen's trip was not to work on AU Optronics matters.

So far companies and individuals ensnared in the U.S. Justice Department's LCD probe have paid more than $890 million in criminal fines.

Eight companies and 22 executives have been charged, the Justice Department said on Thursday. [ID:nN13286191] Other companies involved include Sharp Corp, LG Display Co Ltd and Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd.

Last August, Illston ordered Chen to remain in the United States, despite arguments that Chen needed to travel to Asia for important business meetings. The government considers him a flight risk.

On Friday, Illston approved Chen's request to travel to Taiwan for a few weeks. Chen had said in court papers that he wanted go from January 28 until February 28 to visit his father and observe the Chinese New Year.

"I am trusting your word that you will come back," Illston told Chen.

Outside court, Getz said Chen was committed to taking the government to trial in the United States.

"He needs to clear his name," Getz said.

A Justice Department representative had no immediate comment on Illston's decision.

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 Richard Chang, editing by Matthew Lewis)