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Apple Japan Fair Trade probe – details emerge

It's definitely a price-fixing charge

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Apple Japan's suspected violation of Section 19, Articles 12 and 13 of the Japanese Anti-monopoly Law provoked this week's raid by on the Mac maker's Tokyo HQ, other Apple sites and wholesale partners by the Japanese Fair Trade Commission (FTC), it emerged this morning.

As anticipated, the FTC's allegations centre on retail price maintenance (banned under Article 12 of the Law) and illegal restrictions on trading (Article 13). Essentially, the FTC's beef is that Apple and some of its wholesalers, including the Canon Sales Company, told retailers what prices they had to charge for iMacs and iBooks sold in Japan.

The FTC believes Apple also maintained a list of retailers. That's not a violation in itself, according to Hideo Ishida, a lawyer specialising in antitrust regulations cited by the Nikkei newswire, but an issue if it was used to fix prices.

"Restricting the range of retailers is not itself a problem under the Anti-Monopoly Law," said Ishida. "The issue is whether or not the company fixed prices by choosing the stores that can sell its products." In other words, did Apple drop retailers who persisted in offering discounts on its consumer kit?

The FTC's investigation has now moved on to an evaluation stage: having taken material from Apple and partners, it will sift through the evidence to determine whether Apple did indeed infringe on Articles 12 and 13, and whether it did so knowingly. Apple Japan has denied the allegations.

"Retailers that put the iMac on display and have in-stores demos are partners who fully appreciate the Apple approach to marketing," a Nikkei-cited Apple spokesperson said. Apple's only other comment on the issue is to declare its co-operation with the FTC probe. ®

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