Competition regulators on Tuesday raided the offices of Intel and top European electrical goods retailers, in a sign that the antitrust probe against the world’s largest chipmaker is expanding.
European Commission officials visited Intel’s Munich offices, as well as Europe’s biggest electronic chain, Media Markt, its second biggest, DSG International, operator of PC World, and French retailer PPR.
“The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EC treaty rules on restrictive business practices and/or abuse of a dominant market position,” the regulator said.
It stressed that the raids did not pre-judge the outcome of the investigation.
Intel, Media Markt, PPR and DSG all confirmed the visits and said they were co-operating with the investigation.
The Commission’s move comes at an unusual stage in its long-running probe into Intel, which began nearly seven years ago after a complaint from the US company’s smaller rival, Advanced Micro Devices.
Having carried out raids in 2005, the Commission formally accused Intel six months ago of trying to do deals with computer makers to push AMD out of the central processing unit business.
The latest raids appear to be focused primarily on Intel’s relationships with retailers, rather than computer makers, suggesting that the Commission may be enlarging the scope of its probe.
Commission officials declined to comment on Tuesday. However, it is not unknown for the European antitrust regulator to file additional charges against suspected offenders as investigations proceed.
In a short statement, Giuliano Meroni, AMD’s president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “This is an important expansion of the Commission’s investigation.”
In its earlier complaint in July last year, the Commission accused Intel of offering rebates to manufacturers if they agreed to obtain most of their CPU chips from Intel, and inducing makers to delay or cancel the start-up of products using AMD chips.
Intel submitted a confidential response to those charges and said it believed the microprocessor market was “functioning normally to the benefit of consumers”, but declined to elaborate on its reply.
Intel and AMD make virtually all the chips at the processing heart of the world’s computers and servers, but Intel has the lion’s share of the business.