Cartel in memory chips fined €331m by EU regulators

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The Independent Online

Nine memory chip makers, including the world leader, Samsung Electronics, were fined a total of €331m (£285m) by EU regulators yesterday for illegally fixing prices. The EU antitrust watchdog levied its biggest penalty of €145.73m against Samsung, while Germany's Infineon was fined €56.7m and Hynix Semiconductor €51.47m for a cartel of DRAM (dynamic random access memory) chip makers that operated between July 1998 and June 2002. DRAM chips are used in personal computers, printers, mobile phones and game consoles.

The other companies in the cartel were Hitachi, which received a fine of €20.41m, Toshiba (€17.64m), Mitsubishi Electric (€16.61m) and Nanya Technology (€1.80m). Elpida Memorywas fined €8.50m jointly with NEC and Hitachi, while NEC Corp took a €2.12m hit jointly with Hitachi during their joint venture period. NEC got a separate €10.30m fine. Micron Technology 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.

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 per cent 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," the bloc's 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 process.