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Google reportedly faces maximum fine from Korean trustbuster

The country's top fair trade official says his agency may fine Google the maximum amount for allegedly obstructing an investigation.

Google could face the maximum fine for allegedly obstructing a Korean investigation of its business practices, the head of the Korean Fair Trade Commission told that country's fourth-largest newspaper.

That antitrust official, Kim Dong-soo, made the comments in a recent interview with the paper, Hankook Ilbo (note: original article is in Korean), according to CNET's independent translation of the article. The paper reported that when the agency raided Google Korea's office in September, the company obstructed the investigation by deleting key files from PCs and asking its employees to telecommute from home, which had the effect of undermining the investigation.

Google denies that its employees deleted documents or that it instructed them to work from home in order to impede the investigation. The company also notes that it has not been informed that the commission is considering fines.

"We will, of course, continue cooperating with this and other government inquiries," said Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich.

The agency is reportedly investigating allegations that Google limits access to rival search engines on its Android mobile operating system. In April, two Korean Internet companies--NHN, which operates the popular Naver search engine there, and Daum Communications--asked the commission to investigate Google's business practices regarding mobile search.

According to the Hankook Ilbo article, the agency is looking into Google's practice of preloading smartphones with its search engine, encouraging consumers to use it more frequently than rival search engines.

While the publicity of a fine would be damaging, the potential financial penalty would be paltry for a company of Google's size. According to the article, the commission can impose a fine of up to 200 million won for a business, or just over $172,000 at today's exchange rates. The agency can also fine executives and employees up to 50 million won, or a bit more than $43,000.