Report: EU ombudsman criticizes Intel antitrust regulators

Investigator criticizes antitrust regulator in recent case, saying European Commission didn't include evidence that was potentially exculpatory for the chipmaker.

The European Union's ombudsman has criticized the antitrust regulator in a recent case against Intel, saying the regulator did not include evidence that was potentially exculpatory for the chipmaker, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

In May, Intel was fined 1.06 billion euros ($1.45 billion) for engaging in, according to the Commission, illegal anticompetitive practices to exclude competitors from the market for computer chips based on the x86 architecture--the design that both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices use in their microprocessors.

"Intel has harmed millions of European consumers by deliberately acting to keep competitors out of the market for computer chips for many years," competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement at the time.

The investigation was driven by complaints from rival AMD.

The ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, chided the Commission for "maladministration" by not formally citing an August 2006 meeting between Commission investigators and a senior Dell executive, according to the Friday report in the Journal. The Dell executive was providing evidence in the case and "is believed to have told investigators that Dell viewed the performance of Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. as 'very poor,'" according to the report.

The Journal report concludes that this "could imply that Dell chose Intel chips for technical reasons, rather than because it was muscled into doing so." This would contradict the formal EU decision that claimed that PC manufacturers bought chips from Intel strictly because they did not want to forfeit hefty rebates from Intel.

The ombudsman cannot change the outcome of the case, according to the report.

Intel did not comment.

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