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In what federal prosecutors are calling the second-largest criminal antitrust fine in U.S. history, Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. and its stateside subsidiary have agreed to pay $300 million for taking part in a price-fixing conspiracy. In a deal announced by the U.S. Department of Justice Thursday, Samsung Electronics and Samsung Semiconductor Inc. have agreed to pay the fine and plead guilty to one charge of price-fixing on their dynamic random access memory chips, or DRAMs. The price-fixing investigation had already resulted in guilty pleas from Hynix Semiconductor Inc. and Infineon Technologies AG, as well as five other individuals, resulting in another $346 million in fines. But it is not clear how many companies the feds are after. “Because it’s ongoing, we can’t say when it’s going to be done or how many others, if any, will be charged,” said Phillip Warren, chief of the San Francisco office of the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, which has been investigating the price-fixing conspiracy for more than three years. Should U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton approve Samsung’s plea bargain in U.S.A. v. Samsung Electronics Co., 05-00643, the fine would be paid into a victim compensation fund that supports more than 2,000 programs, Warren said. The DRAM industry was worth billions of dollars in sales in the United States last year. The chips are used in many computer, telecommunication and consumer electronic products, from personal computers and digital cameras to modems and servers. “The size of the fine � reflects the fact that Samsung was the largest DRAM manufacturer in the world,” Warren said. The victims of the conspiracy, he added, “include the largest PC manufacturers in the world and several firms based in Silicon Valley.” As part of its plea deal, Samsung has agreed to cooperate as the investigation continues by giving the government the chance to interview executives and by providing documents, Warren said. Samsung declined to comment beyond a written statement issued by its U.S. subsidiary. “Achieving the final resolution of this matter has been paramount to Samsung,” said the statement by Chris Goodhart, Samsung Semiconductor’s director of marketing communications. “Samsung is strongly committed to fair competition and ethical practices and forbids anticompetitive behavior.” Despite its heft, Samsung’s fine falls $200 million short of the high-water mark. The largest criminal antitrust fine in the United States came six years ago, when Swiss-based F. Hoffmann-La Roche was charged with participating in a conspiracy to fix prices on vitamins and agreed to pay $500 million, Warren said. The alleged victims of the DRAM price-fixing conspiracy are going after their monetary damages in civil court. Direct customers, for example, filed a number of federal class actions to collect damages from the alleged price-fixers, said Guido Saveri of San Francisco’s Saveri & Saveri, one of three co-lead counsel who represents them. The federal cases are now grouped together as multidistrict litigation before Judge Hamilton, Saveri added.

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