Commission to ‘look into’ antitrust work of MS' Eurocrat hire

It begins to look like they'd entirely forgotten he'd done it...

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The European Commission has been performing a curious backwards shuffle over the departure of official Detlef Eckert for a three year furlough with The Beast. Eckert's departure earlier this month was originally spun as of no import, because he didn't work on the Commission's Microsoft investigation, but after our brief mention of the matter earlier this week, baying packs of newshounds would seem to have been going for the spinmeisters with the meat tenderiser.

And er, after a fighting retreat over the past couple of days it now appears they're going to look into what happened. One of the ways Eckert didn't work on the investigation, apparently, is that he took delivery of evidence for the investigation from the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA). CCIA president Ed Black is now not best pleased, particularly as Eckert seemed so sympathetic, and now wants some guarantees from Microsoft concerning Eckert's employ.

OK, so perhaps that should have been not specifically working on the investigation. Which makes the antics of Commission spokesman Jonathan Faull a little puzzling. Over at MacWorld yesterday the Commission was still claiming he'd had nothing to do with the investigation, and Faull is quoted as saying: "He has not worked in a related area."

But at Reuters the line was that there was no potential conflict of interest, and DGIS Director General Fabio Colasant - who signed-off Eckert's leave of absence - was saying: "I was perfectly aware of the official's responsibilities and those of his unit. But he pledged to respect the Commission's statutory obligations for what concerns conflict of interest."

Which does sound a tad like Colasant accepted there was a potential conflict of interest but accepted Eckert's promise that he'd be good. Except as later turned out Clasant wasn't perfectly (not entirely) aware of Eckert's responsibilities. Finally, at AP, we have the investigation brewing. "Under prolonged questioning by journalists on how much Mr. Eckert knew about cases directly linked to Microsoft, Mr. Faull said however 'we will have to check all of that.'"

For the information of those of you not in the trade, that "under prolonged questioning by journalists" speaks volumes. Under withering question-fire the Commission spokespeople buckled, seem to have revealed they'd entirely forgotten that Eckert's unit had had anything to do with Microsoft (2001 was a long time ago) and were forced to lamely promise to look up their records.

This one may yet run some distance, but Eckert, who is going to work from Paris on Trustworthy Computing, under the .NET umbrella at Microsoft, will most certainly be minding what he says. The trouble is that, although Microsoft says he's not going to work for the legal unit (of course he isn't, silly), Trustworthy Computing is all about security, identity, encryption... All of this is stuff his unit was directly concerned with on a day to day basis, and there's far more potential here for conflict of interest than there is as regards the antitrust case.

Ask Jonathan about that at the next press call, people. ®

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