updated 3/10/2009 1:49:07 PM ET 2009-03-10T17:49:07

Hitachi Displays Ltd. has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to fix prices on the sale of LCD panels.

The Japan-based electronics firm agreed to pay a $31 million fine as part of its deal with the U.S. Justice Department.

Three other major producers of liquid crystal display panels have already admitted their involvement in price-fixing.

Hitachi admitted to fixing prices of the screens sold to Dell, Inc. for use in desktop monitors and notebook computers from 2001 to 2004.

LG Display Co. Ltd., Sharp Corp., and Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd. struck similar plea agreements last year relating to their sales of glass display screens.

A one-count felony charge was filed Tuesday in federal court in San Francisco.

With the Hitachi plea, the U.S. government will have garnered more than $600 million in criminal fines stemming from LCD price-fixing.

"This case should send a strong message to multinational companies operating in the United States that when it comes to enforcing the U.S. antitrust laws we mean business," Acting Assistant Attorney General Scott Hammond said in a statement.

The court papers charge Hitachi participated in meetings and communications in Japan, Korea, and the United States to discuss the prices of screens sold to Dell, at which they agreed to set certain prices.

There is a $70 billion worldwide market for LCD screens. Regulators in Asia and the European Union also have opened investigations into LCD pricing.

Last year, LG Display, a South Korean company, and its LG Display America Inc. unit agreed to pay a $400 million fine for its part in fixing prices of certain LCD panels from 2001 to 2006.

Chunghwa, a Taiwanese company, agreed to pay $65 million for its role in the scheme.

And Sharp, a Japanese company, agreed to pay $120 million for participating in separate conspiracies to fix the price of certain LCD panels sold to Dell, Motorola and Apple. Those panels were used in computer monitors, laptops, Motorola Razr mobile phones and Apple's iPod portable music players.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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