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(Reuters) — The European Commission imposed the biggest antitrust penalty in its history on Wednesday, fining six firms including Royal Philips Electronics N.V., LG Electronics Inc. and Samsung SDI Co. Ltd. a total of €1.47 billion ($1.91 billion) for running two cartels for nearly a decade.
The commission said executives from the European and Asian companies met until six years ago to fix prices and divide up markets for TV and computer monitor cathode-ray tubes, technology now mostly made obsolete by flat screens.
Between 1996 and 2006, they met in Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and Asia for "green meetings," so-called because they often ended in a round of golf.
The E.U. antitrust regulator imposed the biggest penalty, of €313.4 million ($407.0 million), on Dutch-based Philips for its role in fixing prices and carving up markets. LG Electronics of South Korea must pay the second-biggest fine, set at €295.6 million ($383.9 million).
"These cartels for cathode-ray tubes are 'textbook cartels': They feature all the worst kinds of anti-competitive behavior that are strictly forbidden to companies doing business in Europe," E.U. Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement.
Taiwanese firm Chunghwa Picture Tubes blew the whistle on the cartels in TV and computer monitors and escaped a fine.
The commission also fined Panasonic Corp. €157.5 million ($204.6 million), Samsung SDI €150.8 million ($195.8 million), Toshiba Corp. €28 million ($36.7 million), and French company Technicolor €38.6 million ($50.1 million).
A joint venture between Philips and LG Electronics was penalized €391.9 million ($509.0 million) while two Panasonic joint ventures were also sanctioned.
Almunia said the violations were especially harmful for consumers, as cathode-ray tubes accounted for 50% to 70% of the price of a screen.
Cathode-ray tubes have largely been replaced by more advanced display technologies such as liquid-crystal display (LCD), plasma display and organic light-emitting diodes.
Philips said it would make a provision of €509 million ($661.0 million) in the fourth quarter for the fine, but Chief Executive Frans van Houten also said the group would challenge what he called the disproportionate and unjustified penalty. Philips sold off the business that committed the infringement in 2001.
ING Group N.V. analyst Fabian Smeets told ANP-Reuters that the sanction was significant, but expected. Philips' shares were down 0.2% to €20 ($26) in mid-session, erasing earlier gains after news of the fines.
Technicolor said the fine, which will be booked as an exceptional item in its second-half accounts, would not affect its 2012 earnings and free cash flow targets.
Until now, the Commission's biggest antitrust penalty had been a €1.38 billion ($1.79 billion) fine imposed on participants in a car glass cartel in 2008.
The Commission's sanctions followed a total fine of €128.74 million ($167.2 million) levied last year against four producers of the glass used in cathode-ray tubes.
Chunghwa Picture Tubes, Samsung Electronics, LG Display and three other LCD companies were penalized a total €648 million ($841.6 million) two years ago for taking part in a cartel.