* Executives fixed prices before playing golf
* Philips fined 313.4 mln euros, LG Electronics 295.6 mln
* Philips to appeal fine but to make 509 mln euro provision
* Cartels operated worldwide between 1996-2006
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, Dec 5 The European Commission imposed
the biggest antitrust penalty in its history on Wednesday,
fining six firms including Philips, LG Electronics and Panasonic
a total of 1.47 billion euros ($1.92 billion) for running two
cartels for nearly a decade.
The Commission said executives from the European and Asian
companies met until six years ago to fix prices and divide up
markets for TV and computer monitor cathode-ray tubes,
technology now mostly made obsolete by flat screens.
Between 1996 and 2006 they met in Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and
in Asia for "green meetings", so-called because they often ended
in a round of golf.
"These cartels for cathode-ray tubes are 'textbook cartels':
they feature all the worst kinds of anti-competitive behaviour
that are strictly forbidden to companies doing business in
Europe," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a
The EU antitrust regulator imposed the biggest penalties on
Philips for its role in the price fixing and carving up
of markets. The Dutch-based firm was fined 313.4 million euros
and faces a further penalty through a joint venture.
However, Chief Executive Frans van Houten said the group
would challenge what he called the disproportionate and
LG Electronics of South Korea must pay 295.6
million euros plus its share of a joint venture penalty,
followed by Panasonic Corp which was fined 157.5
The Japanese firm said it might also make a legal challenge.
"Panasonic believes the EU decision is factually and legally
erroneous ... and will carefully review the decision and
consider our options for appeal to the European courts," it
The Commission also fined Samsung SDI 150.8
million euros, Toshiba Corp. 28 million euros, and
French company Technicolor 38.6 million euros.
A joint venture between Philips and LG Electronics was
penalised 391.9 million euros while two Panasonic joint ventures
were also sanctioned.
Almunia said the violations were especially harmful for
consumers, as cathode-ray tubes accounted for 50 to 70 percent
of the price of a screen.
Cathode-ray tubes have largely been replaced by more
advanced display technologies such as liquid-crystal display
(LCD), plasma display and organic light-emitting diodes.
Philips sold off the business which committed the
infringement in 2001 but said it would make a provision of 509
million euros in the fourth quarter for the fine.
ING analyst Fabian Smeets told ANP-Reuters that the sanction
was significant, but had been expected. Philips' shares were
down 0.82 percent to 19.93 euros at late afternoon, erasing
earlier gains after news of the fines.
Technicolor said the fine, which will be booked as an
exceptional item in its second-half accounts, would not affect
its 2012 earnings and free cash flow targets.
Until now, the Commission's biggest antitrust penalty had
been a 1.38 billion euro fine imposed on participants in a car
glass cartel in 2008.
The Commission's sanctions followed a total fine of 128.74
million euros levied last year against four producers of the
glass used in cathode-ray tubes.
Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Samsung Electronics, LG
Display and three other LCD companies were penalised
a total 648 million euros two years ago for taking part in a