(Adds comment from Assistant Attorney General Baer in paragraph
By David Ingram
NEW YORK, July 10 A U.S. court on Thursday
rejected an appeal by Taiwan-based AU Optronics Corp
of the $500 million criminal fine the company was ordered to pay
in 2012 after a conviction for price-fixing in the market for
liquid crystal display panels.
The $500 million fine tied for the largest-ever in a U.S.
price-fixing case. AU Optronics appealed it as excessive.
In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the fine was
consistent with U.S. law. The panel also said the company and
two of its employees were properly convicted.
AU Optronics said the $500 million fine was excessive
because it included alleged gains to co-conspirators. Writing
for the appeals court panel, Judge Margaret McKeown ruled that
the law was unambiguous in allowing a fine based on gross gains
to all co-conspirators.
"The jury found $500 million in gross gains from that
offense," she wrote.
AU Optronics and its lawyers did not immediately respond to
requests for comment.
AU Optronics argued that the case could not be brought in
U.S. courts because much of the alleged conspiracy took place
outside the United States and there was no direct effect on U.S.
consumers. In affirming the conviction, the appeals court
rejected that argument, which legal experts called a significant
threat to U.S. antitrust enforcement.
The ruling "demonstrates that price-fixing cartels that
involve U.S. imports and cause massive harm to U.S. consumers
cannot escape the reach of U.S. antitrust enforcement by
operating outside our borders."Assistant Attorney General Bill
Baer, the chief of the U.S. Justice Department's Antitrust
Division, said in a statement.
The appeals court ruled that the volume of finished goods
sold to U.S. consumers created enough of a connection, or nexus,
to the United States to allow the cases.
In 1999, Roche Holding AG was also fined $500 million in a
case about vitamins.
The case is U.S. v. AU Optronics Corp, 9th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals, No. 12-10492.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Franklin Paul and David Gregorio)