AU Optronics CEO barred from leaving U.S.

The chief executive officer of Taiwanese display panel maker AU Optronics, who faces felony charges related to an LCD price-fixing investigation, has been barred from leaving the U.S.

AU Optronics President and CEO Lai-Juh Chen is one of six AU Optronics executives named in a price-fixing suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in June.

“The U.S. court requires Dr. Chen to remain in the local area prior to trial, and Dr. Chen has retained counsel to deal with this issue,” AU Optronics said Saturday in a filing with the Taiwan Stock Exchange. Chen is in the U.S. to attend hearings related to the case and “to declare his innocence,” the company said.

The order to prevent Chen from leaving the U.S. will have no impact on AU Optronics’ business operations, it said.

The DOJ alleged that Chen and other AU Optronics executives engaged in a five-year scheme to set prices for LCD panels, which are used in computer monitors, laptops and televisions. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a US$1 million fine for individuals, which may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims if either amount is greater than the maximum fine.

Chen is alleged to have been involved in the conspiracy from February 2003 to November 2005, when he served as the director of AU Optronics’ display business group. He was appointed president and CEO of the company on January 1, 2009.

As part of the DOJ’s wider investigation of a price-fixing conspiracy in the LCD industry, seven companies have so far pleaded guilty and ordered to pay fines of more than US$890 million. In addition, 19 executives have been charged with involvement in the conspiracy.

Earlier this month, a former executive at Chi Mei Optoelectronics, another Taiwanese LCD maker, pleaded guilty to involvement in the price-fixing conspiracy. The executive, Chen-Lung Kuo, formerly Chi Mei’s vice president of sales, agreed to serve nine months in jail and pay a criminal fine of US$35,000, the DOJ said in a press release. He was the fourth Chi Mei executive to plead guilty.

Kuo also agreed to assist the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation with the ongoing investigation.

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