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South Korean Watchdog Drops Chip Probe

South Korea's antitrust watchdog said Thursday it has decided to drop a probe into whether four global computer memory chip manufacturers violated the country's fair trade law, citing insufficient evidence.

The Korea Fair Trade Commission said in a statement that it had investigated Samsung Electronics Co. and Hynix Semiconductor Inc., both of South Korea, as well as Micron Technology Inc. of the United States and Germany's Infineon Technologies AG.

The local probe stemmed from a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into price fixing in the United States for dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, chips from April 1999 until June 2002.

Executives from Samsung, Infineon, Hynix as well as Japan's Elpida Memory Inc. have all pleaded guilty there for their roles in the price-fixing scheme and were ordered to pay about $729 million in fines.

The Justice Department granted Micron immunity from criminal charges in exchange for its cooperation. A Micron sales manager pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for withholding and altering documents related to the investigation.

The Korea Fair Trade Commission said it was difficult to prove whether Samsung, Hynix, Micron and Infineon had engaged in wrongdoing in South Korea.

"In this case, the commission was not able to clearly determine only from the evidence it gathered whether the South Korean market was subject to their collusion or whether their acts directly affected the South Korean market," the KFTC statement said.

Still, the commission stressed that dropping the case was not equal to finding the companies innocent.

"The decision is different from an acquittal in which the reviewees' acts are determined to have not violated the fair trade law," it said.

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