(Corrects 4th paragraph to show individual NEC fine was 10.30 million euros not 20.41 mln euros)
* EU fines 9 chipmakers a total 331 million euros
* Infineon, Elpida Memory, NEC Corp also fined
* Hitachi, Toshiba, Mitsubishi Electric, Nanya also in group
* Micron tip off Commission on cartel, receives no fine
* 10 percent cut in fines under new EU settlement procedure
(Adds more European Commission comment, details)
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, May 19 (Reuters) - Nine memory chip makers, including world leader Samsung Electronics 005930.KS, were fined a total 331 million euros ($411 million) by EU regulators on Wednesday for illegally fixing prices.
The EU antitrust watchdog levied its biggest penalty of 145.73 million euros against Samsung, while Infineon IFXGn.DE was fined 56.70 million and Hynix Semiconductor 000660.KS 51.47 million for a cartel of DRAM (dynamic random access memory) chip makers that operated from July 1998 to June 2002.
The other companies in the cartel were Hitachi Ltd 6501.T, which received a fine of 20.41 million euros, Toshiba Corp 6502.T 17.64 million, Mitsubishi Electric 6503.T 16.61 million and Nanya Technology 2408.TW 1.80 million.
Elpida Memory Inc 6665.T was fined 8.50 million euros jointly with NEC Corp and Hitachi, while NEC Corp 6701.T took a 2.12 million euro hit jointly with Hitachi during their joint venture period. NEC got a separate 10.30 million euro fine.
Micron Technology MU.O received immunity and no fine for blowing the whistle on the cartel in 2002.
Samsung Electronics and Hynix are the world’s largest and second-largest memory chip makers respectively. DRAM chips are used in personal computers, printers, mobile phones and game consoles.
The case is the first under a European Commission settlement procedure introduced in July 2008 in which companies admit taking part in a cartel in return for a 10 percent cut in fines.
“By acknowledging their participation in a cartel the companies have allowed the Commission to bring this long-running investigation to a close and to free up resources to investigate other suspected cartels,” Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement.
The Commission has championed the new procedure as a more effective method to deter violations and speed up the decision-making process. It can fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaking EU laws.
South Korea’s antitrust agency last year ended an investigation of the flash memory industry, saying there was no evidence of a price-fixing cartel. Samsung and Toshiba have said U.S. authorities also ended investigations last August. (Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and David Holmes) ($1=.8054 Euro)