European antitrust regulators search offices of Intel

  • Business
  • Wednesday, 13 Jul 2005

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - European regulators raided Intel Corp. offices in Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy, two weeks after rival U.S. chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices filed lawsuits in Japan and the United States claiming Intel violated antitrust rules. 

On Tuesday, investigators also visited offices of companies that make or sell computers. Dell Inc. offices in Britain were among them, said company spokesman Jess Blackburn in Austin, Texas. 

Microprocessors from Intel, the world's leading chip maker, dominate the global market in desktop computers that run Microsoft's Windows operating system, accounting for 90 percent in revenue terms. 

Sparked by complaints from AMD, the European Commission has for more than four years been investigating claims that Intel used unfair business practices to persuade clients to buy its microprocessors to the exclusion of rivals' chips. 

In March, the EU said it was continuing its probe after a Japanese investigation found that Intel had violated antitrust rules there. Japanese antitrust officials subsequently raided Intel offices there on April 8. 

A statement from the European Union head office said officials from the EU's antitrust department and national competition authorities participated in Tuesday's raids. EU regulators regularly conduct unannounced inspections of companies under investigation in competition cases. 

"Investigations are being carried out in the framework of an ongoing competition case,'' the European Commission said. 

Officials declined to say which offices had been searched, reveal if documents had been taken or give further details. 

Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy said EU staff members visited company offices in Swindon, England; Munich, Germany; Milan, Italy and Madrid, Spain. He declined to specify what information they sought. 

The investigators spent several hours in the Dell offices, said Blackburn. 

He said he didn't know what the investigators were looking for or whether they removed anything. 

Hewlett-Packard Co., another large computer maker, was not visited by investigators, said HP spokeswoman Monica Sarkar. 

EU onsite inspections are usually wrapped in a single day although sometimes investigators return for a second day, in which case suspected offices are sealed overnight. 

As a rule, the inspectors do not remove original documents but often make copies of documents and computer files for further study. 

Mulloy said that over the past four years Intel has provided European Commission staff "with tens of thousands of documents and hundreds of hours of meeting and interviews. We plan to continue to cooperate.'' 

On June 27, AMD sued Intel for billions of dollars in Delaware federal court, claiming that Intel strong-armed 38 computer companies into buying Intel chips. 

That lawsuit alleges that Intel has engaged in a "relentless'' global campaign to maintain a monopoly over microprocessors. AMD also cited Intel's Japanese unit, accusing Intel of violating Japan's antitrust laws and to damaging AMD. 

"Today's dawn raids should come as good news to consumers across Europe,'' said Thomas M. McCoy, AMD's chief administrative officer. 

"Every computer user has a strong interest in ensuring that the full truth about Intel's anticompetitive abuses is revealed and corrected.'' 

But he does not believe the raids were sparked by AMD's lawsuit. 

"This is their investigation,'' McCoy said.  

"I don't think they care about anything other than what they think is the right thing to do for the EU.'' 

Intel denies the lawsuit's allegations, saying AMD was making excuses for its secondary market position. 

"Intel believes that its business practices are both fair and lawful,'' Marlo Thompson, a spokeswoman for the company in Munich, said Tuesday. 

EU antitrust regulators investigating Intel's business practices had reached a preliminary conclusion in 2002 that there was insufficient evidence to bring any charges. 

But in June 2004, they said they would take another look after AMD refused to withdraw its complaint. 

In September 2000, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission told Intel it was ending a three-year investigation into Intel's business practices without taking any action "at this time.''  

AMD maintains another probe was opened and remains open, though inactive. The FTC did not return phone calls seeking comment. 

Intel shares closed at $27.75, up 5 cents, in Tuesday trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market.  

AMD shares ended at $19.37, up 36 cents, or 1.9 percent, on the New York Stock Exchange. -- AP 

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