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EC antitrust cops raid offices of Philips, Samsung, others

Suspected anticompetitive practices under investigation

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EU antitrust regulators have raided the European offices of Philips, Samsung, retail group Media-Saturn, and several other consumer electronics companies, but so far they're not saying what they were looking for.

"The European Commission can confirm that on 3 December 2013, Commission officials initiated unannounced inspections in several Member States at the premises of a number of companies active in the manufacture, distribution and retail of consumer electronics products and small domestic appliances," EU authorities announced on Thursday.

Although the EC did not make public the names of the companies it was investigating as a matter of policy, both Philips and Samsung confirmed to the BBC on Friday that they were among the targets of the raids, and both said they were cooperating with authorities.

As for what it's all about, however, that's anyone's guess. So far, the EC has only said that the investigation involves possible anticompetitive practices related to e-commerce.

"The Commission has grounds to suspect that the companies subject to the inspections may have put in place restrictions on online sales of consumer electronic products and small domestic appliances," Friday's press release explains. "These restrictions, if proven, may lead to higher consumer prices or the unavailability of products through certain online sales channels."

This isn't the first time these and other tech companies have been suspected of anticompetitive behavior in recent months. In May, Dell named Philips, Samsung, and five other electronics companies in a US complaint alleging a conspiracy to fix the prices of optical drives. HP filed a similar suit in October.

It's not clear whether the EC's current investigation also involves optical drives, but the mention of online sales would seem to suggest the European authorities are looking at practices close to the retail channel.

There was no word on what the regulators' next steps might be or how long such an investigation might last.

"Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence," the EC's statement said. ®

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