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Google co-founders face FTC antitrust grilling

Page and Brin have lawyered-up, claim sources

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Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin will be quizzed by antitrust investigators at the US Federal Trade Commission, according to well-placed moles.

The web giant's CEO Page and special projects honcho Brin will be questioned in relation to the FTC's inquiry of the company's business practices, anonymous sources told Bloomberg. Google chairman Eric Schmidt gave his testimony behind closed doors to the regulator last week.

The news wire added that Page and Brin have hired a team of lawyers for their depositions with the FTC: the moneybags nerd duo have retained Williams & Connolly LLP - a Washington-based law firm that previously represented former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and current US President Barack Obama in non-litigation "transactional matters".

The legal outfit was also successful in representing Clinton in the first impeachment trial of a sitting president in over a century relating to the infamous Monica Lewinsky scandal.

In April this year, the FTC stepped up its antitrust scrutiny of Google by hiring well-known outside litigator and one-time Justice Department prosecutor Beth Wilkinson in a move that indicated the company's execs might end up in court.

It's understood, however, that Wilkinson won't be taking Page or Brin's testimonies, which could potentially be used as pre-trial evidence.

The FTC formally began probing allegations that Google favours its own search products over those of its rivals in June 2011. A similar but separate investigation into the world's largest web advertising broker's business practices has been underway in Brussels since November 2010.

In Europe, time is running out for Google. It has until early July to start playing ball with the EU's competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia, who has expressed concerns about Google's "abuses of dominance" and has urged the search giant to offer up "remedies" to prevent "lengthy proceedings" being taken by the EC.

"I expect to receive from Google concrete signs of their willingness to explore this route," Almunia said on Friday.

Schmidt, when questioned by your correspondent last month, claimed his company was operating lawfully.

He said at the time: "We disagree that we are in violation. Until they are precise about what areas of the law we have violated, it will be very difficult for me to speculate." ®

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