Mobile operator HQs raided over price-fixing

OFT! Get on the floor! Down! Down! Down!

The headquarters of all the four main mobile operators in the UK - BT Cellent, One2One, Orange and Vodafone - have been raided this afternoon by officers from the EU's Competition Directorate, escorted by members of the Office of Fair Trading. A further four offices in Germany were also raided.

The officers are investigating price-fixing between different operators when people use their mobiles abroad. A Commission spokesman said such prices were not transparent and did not appear to be related to the costs of making the call. Anyone that has just got back from holiday and seen their mobile bill will tend to agree.

The European competition commissioner Mario "Elliot Ness" Monti said earlier this year that roaming prices such as 86p a minute for calling the UK from Germany were "relatively high". But behind Mario's calm exterior lies a ruthless operator and no sooner did he click his figures than Competition Directorate storm troopers burst into the HQs of the mobile operators seeking the truth.

All operators have confirmed that they were "visited" by members of the Directorate and OFT, although official statements are a lacklustre affair, ranging from: "We will co-operate fully with" etc etc or "It was a routine inspection" etc etc.

None of the companies were expecting the raids and one eye-witness, insisting upon anonymity, said: "It was like something out of the Iranian siege - they came bursting in with smoke bombs and everything. We were made to lay face down on the floor while hooded.." [Enough of your SAS fantasies - Ed]

The raids also hope to discover whether German operators have been illegally fixing the prices they charge to other operators. Companies that are found guilty of running a cartel can be fined as much as 10 per cent of their annual sales.

Mario has recently been very vocal about price fixing. EU investigations are currently taking place regarding Microsoft, DVDs and Internet music companies. We look to see whether they are dealt the same treatment. ®

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