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State | THE STATE / FINANCIAL SERVICES

Visa Agrees to Cooperate With States

April 15, 1998|Times Staff and Wire Reports

Visa International Inc. has agreed to provide documents to California and several other states that are investigating alleged antitrust practices in the credit card industry, said a spokesman for Ohio Atty. Gen. Betty Montgomery. After a one-hour conference call with enforcement officials from 10 states and Puerto Rico, Visa attorneys "agreed to cooperate with information requests made by the states," said spokesman Todd Boyer. Staci Turner, a spokeswoman for California Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren's office, would neither confirm nor deny the state's participation in the conference call. Turner did say, however, California currently has no formal investigation or pending legal action against either Visa or MasterCard International, both of which have been the focus of an 18-month probe by the Justice Department. "Our interest in Visa and MasterCard at this point is just a matter of monitoring the market, like we do for any industry, to ensure competition," she said. Federal investigators, however, have been specifically trying to determine whether Visa and MasterCard violated antitrust laws by barring member U.S. banks from offering competing credit cards from rivals American Express Co. and Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter, Discover & Co. MasterCard, so far, has not offered the states a similar promise of cooperation. Visa spokesman Kelly Presta confirmed the conference call took place but would not disclose whether California officials participated or whether Visa agreed to turn over documents to any state. Presta, however, said the company did agree "to exchange views and information as part of the process."

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