Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- European Union antitrust regulators bolstered companies’ rights of defense in the wake of a backlash from companies including Intel Corp. over the fairness of procedures in competition probes.
Companies may now ask an independent arbiter to step in during disputes with regulators over the confidentiality of documents and when they are concerned about answering questions that could incriminate them, the European Commission said in an e-mailed statement today.
Intel, the world’s largest maker of computer chips, has argued that regulators levied a “manifestly disproportionate” 1.06 billion-euro ($1.47 billion) fine without proving antitrust violations. Deutsche Bahn AG, Holcim Ltd., Cemex SAB and six other companies filed EU court challenges to evidence gathered in antitrust probes as more firms turn to the courts to rein in the power of the region’s competition watchdog.
“We are willing to listen to stakeholders, learn from experience and make improvements, while maintaining efficient procedures,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in the statement.
The EU’s hearing officer will now be able to act during the early stages of an antitrust probe, in disputes during merger investigations and negotiations on settlements of cases, the commission said. Regulators will also give companies more information on the status of a probe, tell them how possible fines may be calculated, give them more details of evidence submitted by rivals or customers and explain why it rejects complaints.
The commission was faulted by the EU ombudsman in 2009 for failing to record notes of a meeting with an executive from personal computer maker Dell Inc. during its case against Intel.
--Editors: Peter Chapman, Anthony Aarons
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