E.U. expected to fine nine chip makers for price fixing

The New York Times is reporting nine memory chip makers are expected to be fined by European Union regulators this week for illegal price fixing. The companies which have been charged are Samsung Electronics, NEC Electronics, Hitachi, Toshiba, Mitsubishi Electric, Infineon, Hynix Semiconductor, Elpida Memory and Nanya Technology. Micron Technology received immunity in the case for revealing the cartel and would not be fined for its involvement.

In July 2008 the European Commission introduced a new settlement procedure which allows companies to receive a 10% reduction in fines if they admit to taking part in a cartel. The Times quotes "three people with direct knowledge of the matter" say the fines given to the companies would be the first since the introduction of the settlement procedure. 

The decision for the fines is expected to be handed down Wednesday and one of the sources says the total of the fines may go high as €300 million ($381 million).

One of the unnamed sources says the E.U. competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia is expected to hold a press conference on Wednesday regarding the issue. So far the commission has declined to comment but has said previously the new settlement procedure is a more effective method to deter violations. 

Companies found guilty can have up to 10% of their total global turnover fined by the E.U. executive for breaking E.U. laws. 

In December 2009 Infineon revealed the commission had begun formal proceedings believing it was using anti-competitive behaviour for selling DRAM chips in the European market. These chips can be found in popular items such as PCs, printers, mobile phones and gaming consoles. 

Last year South Korea and U.S. antitrust regulators believed there was not pricing cartel after their investigation of the flash memory industry. 

Samsung Electronics and Hynix make up the world's two largest memory chip makers and in 2007 South Korean regulators dropped their price-fixing investigation against the companies. This investigation also included Micron and Infineon.

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