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European Regulator May Fine Microsoft

March 03, 2006|From Associated Press

A European Union antitrust regulator on Thursday threatened to fine Microsoft Corp. after the company accused the EU of withholding documents and colluding with its rivals before filing charges in December.

"If we pursue the line we are following now, there will be fines and they won't be small fines," EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes told Dow Jones Newswires.

The EU has threatened $2.4 million in daily fines, backdated to Dec. 15, unless the company obeys a 2004 antitrust order to provide competitors with the information needed to make their software work with Microsoft servers. Microsoft claims that it worked strenuously in the fall to meet the EU demands and that regulators kept shifting the goalposts -- something the commission firmly denies.

Speaking to Dutch business leaders in The Hague, Kroes said Microsoft could still plead its case in a commission hearing March 30 and March 31 before the EU decides to impose fines.

Microsoft alleged Thursday that regulators had "inappropriate contacts" with rival companies and an independent monitor, Neil Barrett, known as the "trustee" -- which it said called into question the impartiality of Barrett's report.

The EU based its December charges largely on Barrett's views that the technical documentation Microsoft had supplied needed a drastic overhaul to be workable.

Microsoft said the commission had held back documents -- including correspondence between EU officials, Barrett, other experts and rival companies -- that it believed was crucial to preparing its antitrust defense.

The EU levied a record $613-million fine against Microsoft in 2004. It also ordered the company to share code with rivals and offer a version of Windows without Media Player software.

Microsoft is appealing the ruling and the case will be heard in April.

Its shares fell 17 cents to $26.97.

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