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EC regulators delay Oracle decision

European antitrust regulators stop the clock on deciding whether to block Oracle's hostile takeover bid for PeopleSoft. Observers speculate Oracle is stalling, to avoid an unfavorable EU decision that could influence its U.S. case.

European antitrust regulators late Wednesday were forced to push back the deadline for a decision on Oracle's hostile takeover bid for PeopleSoft, after Oracle missed a deadline to supply new market information.

Oracle, which told regulators it had new pertinent market information for them to consider, missed a deadline in providing the materials, which required the commission to suspend the review, said Tilman Lueder, a spokesman for the European Commission, which serves as antitrust regulator for the European Union. The commission had faced a May 11 deadline to rule on the proposed acquisition.

"During an oral hearing on March 31 and April 1, Oracle said they had new market information on finance and human resources software," Lueder said. "Oracle suggested we needed this new information in order to make a final decision, but they have not given it to us and missed their deadline."

The commission, which last month issued a statement of objections to the deal, held the hearings to give Oracle and others a chance to address the commission before its final decision. The panel, in an April 5 letter to Oracle, set April 12 as the deadline to deliver the materials.

Lueder said the missed deadline forced the commission to act--or rather, not act, by stopping the deadline clock. "They wouldn't give us the information, even though they said it's relevant to the case," he said. "In light of their missing the deadline, the commission adopted a formal information request, which is a legal act to stop the deadline on making a final decision (by May 11). The clock will start again, once they provide the information."

The new deadline will be moved back from May 11 as many European working days as it takes for Oracle to supply the requested information.

PeopleSoft, in a statement released Thursday, accused Oracle of deliberately stalling the progress of the case. "Oracle's delay in complying with the EC's request for information is consistent with their attempt to drag out the DOJ process in the U.S. and underscores what we have been saying for many months--that Oracle appears to be intentionally delaying matters as part of their efforts to damage our business."

Jim Finn, an Oracle spokesman, said in a statement: "We can confirm that we have received a request from the European Commission for additional information on our proposed transaction for PeopleSoft. We will continue to cooperate with the commission and will respond as quickly as possible."

Oracle declined to comment further.

Some sources close to the investigation speculate that Oracle wants to delay supplying the information to bolster its chances in its antitrust fight in the United States. A European Commission ruling against the merger may influence the U.S. District Court judge reviewing the case here.

The Justice Department, which filed a lawsuit to block the merger, is expected to take Oracle to court on June 7. The trial will be overseen by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who previously sought to name an expert witness to help him get up to speed on the products and technology involved in the case.

"Oracle may want to play it safe (with Judge Walker), and that could be why it hasn't given the commission the information," said the source.

The DOJ trial is expected to last up to four weeks, which means it's likely to run through the entire month of June.

Although the European Commission cannot suspend a decision forever, its laws tie its hands in several regards. The panel is bound to use all possible diligence and tools to obtain information crucial to a case. The commission cannot simply rush to make an antitrust merger decision if information from a party is not received by a deadline.

"Oracle knows the commission has to exhaust all measures to get the information before it can move forward," said the source.