Samsung, Philips among companies raided by EU antitrust investigators

Inspections are part of inquiry into anticompetitive practices

Samsung, Philips and electronics retailer Media-Saturn were among the companies raided by European officials this week as part of an investigation into possible anticompetitive agreements about online sales of electronics.

The companies disclosed on Friday that they were targets of the raid. The European Commission has confirmed that the raids took place on Tuesday, when officials initiated unannounced inspections in several European Union countries. The Commission did not disclose the names of the companies under investigation.

"The Commission has grounds to suspect that the companies subject to the inspections may have put in place restrictions on online sales of consumer electronic products and small domestic appliances," the Commission said in a news release. The companies concerned may have violated E.U. antitrust rules that prohibit anticompetitive agreements, it added.

If these restrictions are indeed in force, they may lead to higher consumer prices or the unavailability of products through certain online sales channels, the Commission said. A Commission competition official declined to say Friday what those restrictions are.

The official also declined to disclose which companies were raided and how many are involved. The Commission does not divulge the names of companies being investigated this early in an inquiry, the official said, adding that sometimes companies will disclose their involvement voluntarily.

Samsung, Philips and Media-Saturn, a company with net revenue of €21 billion (US$28.7 billion) that operates electronics retail brands Saturn, Media Markt and Redcoon, acknowledged on Friday their involvement in the inspections but declined to comment on details about the investigation.

Samsung is cooperating fully with the European Commission, a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. She declined to comment further.

Philips was visited by Commission officials earlier this week, a spokesman said in an emailed statement, adding that Philips is fully cooperating with the inspection. The company declined further comment.

"We can confirm that the EU-Commission has visited us on December, 3rd," a Media-Saturn spokeswoman said in an emailed statement, adding that Media-Saturn too is fully cooperating with the official authorities. "We do not want to disclose any further details at this moment," she added.

Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step in an antitrust investigation, the Commission said. However, the fact that the Commission is conducting an inspection does not mean that a company is guilty of anticompetitive behavior, nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself, it said. There is no deadline set to complete the investigation, the Commission added.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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