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European regulators have expanded their antitrust probe against Intel to include charges that the world’s largest chip company tried to prevent retailers from offering computers powered by rival microprocessors.

The European Commission, which has been investigating Intel’s business practices for more than five years, on Monday said that it had taken over a probe that was started by Germany’s Federal Cartel Office earlier this year.

It centres on allegations that Intel attempted to hurt Advanced Micro Devices, its rival, by cutting off the company’s access to the Media Markt and Saturn retail outlets. Owned by Metro, the German group, the chains are Europe’s biggest computer retailers.

A spokesman for Neelie Kroes, the EU competition commissioner, said the Commission and the German regulator had agreed that it would make more sense for Brussels to take on this probe. The Commission, he added, was already “looking into a range of tactics used by Intel to limit market penetration of AMD”.

A spokesman for AMD said: “We are pleased to learn that DG Competition [the Commission’s antitrust arm] is examining Intel’s exclusive relationship with Media Saturn Holding. We are confident that DG Competition will conclude what the industry has known for years; that Intel has entered into an exclusivity agreement with Europe’s largest computer retailer.”

Intel is the dominant force in the global market for microchips, with a markets share of about 80 per cent. AMD, its only rival, has said for years that its business has suffered because of Intel’s allegedly illegal businesses practices, and has complained to antitrust watchdogs globally. It has also launched a private litigation case against Intel in the US.

As part of its investigation, the Commission raided the offices of Intel and several computer manufacturers last year. The next step would be for Brussels to issue formal antitrust charges against the US chipmaker, a move that could ultimately lead to painful financial penalties for Intel.

A spokesman for Intel said: “We plan to co-operate with the staff of the European Commission. We believe our business practices are lawful.”

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