EC raids smartcard firms in cartel investigation

A number of semiconductor companies with premises in Europe have been raided by European Commission anti-competition inspectors
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The European Commission has carried out a number of unannounced inspections of smartcard firms in various European Union member states as part of an investigation into anti-competitive behaviour.

The raids of "several" European semiconductor companies occurred on 21 October, 2008, according to a Commission statement on Wednesday.

Inspectors were looking for evidence of price-fixing, customer allocation and exchange of commercially sensitive information between manufacturers of chips used in telephone SIM cards, bank cards and identity cards.

Dutch semiconductor company NXP told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that it had been one of the companies approached by Commission inspectors. "We have received questions from the Commission," said an NXP spokesperson. "We are co-operating with the Commission investigation. At the moment, we are answering their questions."

Samsung declined to say whether it had been subject to inspection. However, a spokesperson told ZDNet UK that it is company policy to co-operate with official investigations. "Samsung Electronics is prepared, at all times when necessary, to fully co-operate with the respective authorities in the countries we do business and in the relevant industries worldwide," said the spokesperson.

A spokesperson for Texas Instruments told ZDNet UK the company has not been inspected in the probe.

The Commission pointed out in its statement that the fact a business was part of the surprise raids did not imply any wrongdoing on the part of the target. "Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected cartels. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour; nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself," it said.

The Commission declined to say how many or which companies had been inspected. However, a spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that the next stage of the process was to sift the information gained during the raids.

After that, the next step will be a statement of objections, or a legal document outlining alleged instances of infringement of competition law. However, the Commission's spokesperson declined to give a definite timescale, but said: "It takes a lot of time".

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