Memory maker Infineon Technologies has been fined a massive $160m by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) after pleading guilty to one charge of DRam price-fixing.
The admission comes after years of investigation by the DoJ into Infineon's and some other leading memory manufacturers' practices. The $160m fine is the third-largest the DoJ has ever dished out. It is expected that other DRam suppliers may yet be forced to cough up.
According to the DoJ, Infineon conspired with unnamed DRam manufacturers to fix the prices of DRam sold to certain computer and server manufacturers between July 1999 and June 2002.
The court heard Infineon carried out the conspiracy by participating in meetings, conversations and communications in the US and elsewhere with rivals to discuss the prices of DRam to be sold to certain customers.
It also pleaded guilty to issuing price quotations agreed with other DRam partners and to exchanging customer information with other suppliers to help monitor and enforce the new prices.
"Infineon is the first company to agree to plead guilty to price-fixing charges in our ongoing investigation of anti-trust violations in the DRam industry," said James Griffin, deputy assistant attorney general for criminal enforcement at the DoJ's Anti-trust Division.
"This is the third-largest criminal fine in the history of the Anti-trust Division. More importantly, Infineon will provide valuable assistance in our continued investigation."
According to the DoJ, firms affected by price fixing include Dell, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Apple, IBM and Gateway.
In a statement, Infineon said: "The wrongdoing charged by the DoJ was limited to certain OEM customers. Infineon has already been in contact with these customers and has achieved or is in the process of achieving settlements with all of them. Infineon strongly condemns any attempt to fix or stabilise prices."
John Ashcroft, US attorney general, said: "This case sends the message that high-tech price fixing cartels will not be tolerated - a message reinforced by the largest criminal fine levied in a DoJ case in the past three years."
Dave Flack, sales and marketing director at distributor Amplio Technology, said: "It's always difficult to make something like this stick, but this time it has. There are always price-fixing suspicions in the DRam market because there are so few vendors.
"Now that Infineon has been caught, others will too. After all, DRam vendors don't price fix on their own."
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