State attorney general says Washington has reached a $63 million agreement with LCD companies

Markets Associated Press

The State of Washington has reached a $63 million agreement with nine LCD manufacturers accused of fixing prices for products ranging from flat-screen televisions to computers and cellphones, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced on Friday.

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If a King County Superior Court judge approves the agreement during a May 22 hearing, Ferguson said it will be one of the largest recoveries by his office's antitrust division in state history.

The state filed a lawsuit in 2010 against a list of companies that make products that use a liquid crystal display, or LCD. The lawsuit claimed these companies conspired to fix prices between 1998 until 2006. The scheme may have increased the prices that customers paid by as much as 20 percent, Ferguson said. The LCD panel can account for 80 percent of the cost of a device, he said.

"This unfair competition affected millions of Washingtonians over a period of eight years," Ferguson said in a statement. "The scale of today's agreement reflects the scale of this deception. When powerful interests don't play by the rules, my office will be there to hold them accountable."

Larry Gangnes, a Seattle lawyer representing Samsung, declined to comment on the case. Messages left for lawyers with the other companies were not immediately returned.

Under the agreement, Samsung would pay the state $12.94 million and AU Optronics $12.5 million. Sharp, Epson and Toshiba also agreed to pay between $950,000 and almost $7 million, Ferguson said. Two other companies, LG and Hatachi, had previously reached an agreement in the case for $13 million and $5.2 million, respectively.

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Eight of the nine companies involved in the case had previously pleaded guilty or were convicted of federal criminal price-fixing charges filed by the U.S. Justice Department, he said.

Most of the money will be returned to consumers who purchased the products, Ferguson said.

The details on how the funds would be dispersed are still being worked out, said Peter Lavallee, the attorney general's spokesman.

If the agreement is approved, they would name a "professional claims administrator" who would work with the state on a refund process, he said.

"That said, AG Ferguson said that it is his expectation that the process be a very flexible one and that receipts will likely not be required," Lavallee said. "We will distribute details on the refund process as they are developed, through outreach, the media and prominently on our website."

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