BRUSSELS -- The European Union on Wednesday imposed its biggest ever cartel fine of almost $1.96 billion on seven companies for fixing the market of television and computer monitor tubes.
The EU's Commission ruled that, for a decade ending in 2006, the companies -- including Philips, LG Electronics and Panasonic -- artificially set prices, shared markets and restricted their output at the expense of the consumer.
EU antitrust Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said that the companies' actions "feature all the worst kinds of anticompetitive behavior that are strictly forbidden to companies doing business in Europe."
Tubes were the essential part of television screens and computer monitors before they were replaced by flatscreens. The cathode ray tubes accounted for up to 70 percent of the cost of a screen, the Commission said.
Alumina added that the tubes' cost gave "an indication of the serious harm" the companies had caused.
Philips and LG Electronics, which acted jointly and separately, were fined a combined $1.3 billion with Panasonic punished with a $205 million fine, adding to more if combined fines and affiliates were included.
Other companies fined were Samsung SDI, Technicolor, MTPD and Toshiba. Chunghwa of Taiwan escaped fines as it was the first to reveal the cartel to the EU.
`'It is the biggest fine for a cartel, ever," Almunia said. The fine exceeded the previous record of the 2008 fine of $1.8 billion in a car glass cartel.
Almunia said the tubes cartel operated worldwide with the companies involved fully realizing they acted illegally.
One document seized by the Commission had a warning "Everybody is requested to keep it as secret as it would be serious damage if it is open to customers or European Commission".
Another documents said "Please dispose the following document after reading it".