Intel raided by EU

Update: Intel's offices in Swindon and Munich have been visited by the European Commission as it investigates antitrust claims against the chipmaker

European regulators raided the offices of Intel and a number of PC-related companies early Tuesday as part of an antitrust investigation into the chipmaker.

As part of the dawn raids, European Commission officials and national competition authorities from member states descended on several Intel offices, as well as a number of IT companies that manufacture or sell computers, a Commission representative said.

"These inspections are carried out within the framework of an ongoing investigation," the representative said.

An Intel representative said the chipmaker is cooperating fully with investigators.

"Our normal business practice is to cooperate, and we are doing [that] so far in this case," said Intel representative Chuck Mulloy. "We firmly believe that our business practices are fair and lawful."

Intel UK spokesman Nick Knupffer said that Intel's offices in Swindon and Munich had been raided on Tuesday, adding that the company was cooperating with European authorities over the investigation.

The UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) confirmed that it had assisted the European Commission competition authorities in an "on-site inspection" of Intel's Swindon offices.

"It is really a European Commission matter," said the OFT spokeswoman. She said the inspection was likely to have been carried out under article 81 of the EU Treaty, which prohibits price fixing and other distortions of competition within the EU. The spokeswoman could not confirm whether anything was removed from Intel's offices.

The morning raid comes less than four months after Intel reached an agreement with Japan's Fair Trade Commission, which required the chip giant to halt the practice of requiring PC makers to limit the use of competitors' chips in exchange for discounts. Intel agreed to abide by the recommendations, though the company stated that it disagreed with the agency's findings and conclusions.

Last year, Japanese officials also conducted a raid on Intel offices and made their findings available to antitrust agencies in other countries. Following Japan's raid, the European Union said it would revisit its antitrust probe into Intel and sent out 64 letters of inquiry to computer makers and retailers.

Also last year, Commission officials said they would investigate the practice of some member states' procurement policies, which restricted computer purchases to only those that used Intel chips.

"Normally, these companies are pissed when their offices are raided, but there is nothing they can do about it," said one US source familiar with antitrust issues. "They see what investigators have come up with and what is being accused... before they contact [the authorities]".

In most cases, investigators search through hard-copy documents and computer files, the source noted.

Dell has since confirmed that it is one of the companies raided by the EU.

"Our European headquarters at Bracknell has been visited today by officials from the European Commission's competition division," said Claire Ramage, Dell's EMEA corporate communications manager."

"We are cooperating fully," Ramage added.

Ramage declined to give details of what the officials were doing or why they had visited Dell, but admitted that as of 1730 BST they were still on the premises.

Ramage also declined to comment on AMD's lawsuit against Intel.

HP has said that it was not visited by EU officials on Tuesday.

"HP is not one of the computer manufacturers also under current investigation by European Commission officials," said an HP spokesperson, adding that the company was "not in a position to comment on the on-going antitrust investigation by the European Commission of Intel’s business practices."

CNET's Michael Singer and ZDNet UK's Matt Loney contributed to this report.