BRUSSELS -- The conspirators called them "greens meetings," because they took place on golf courses.
Senior managers at some of the world's largest electronics companies often used those meetings, mostly in Asia, to fix the price of picture and display tubes for televisions and computer screens, the top European antitrust regulator said Wednesday.
Joaquin Almunia, the EU competition commissioner, said he would levy fines totaling almost 1.5 billion euros ($1.96 billion) on seven companies involved in the two cartels, which operated for a decade until 2006. Combined, the fines amount to the largest single penalty for price fixing ever imposed by the commission.
The action follows a spate of similar cases in the glass and display sectors, where bulky cathode ray tubes have been supplanted by technologies like liquid crystal display and plasma that allow manufacturers to build far more compact monitors and screens.
Almunia imposed the strongest penalties on Philips Electronics of the Netherlands and LG Electronics of South Korea.
Almunia said at a news conference that the cartel activity began in the late 1990s, when the market was still strong for cathode ray tubes, and lasted until 2006 even as that market declined, allowing the conspirators to continue generating strong returns for a technology that was rapidly becoming outmoded.
"The companies were trying to manage through collusion the decline in the market for
On Wednesday, the commission fined Philips the largest amount, 313.4 million euros. LG Electronics was fined 295.6 million euros. Philips and LG also were also part of a joint venture that received an additional fine of 391.9 million euros for which both companies were liable.
In a statement, Philips said it would appeal the fines to the General Court of the European Union, the bloc's second-highest tribunal. Philips described the fine relating to its involvement in the joint venture as "disproportionate and unjustified." Philips said it had divested that business in 2001.
LG did not respond to an email request for comment.
The commission also fined Panasonic 157.5 million euros, Samsung 150.8 million euros, Toshiba 28 million euros and Technicolor 38.6 million euros.