French competition authority raids Apple France

Apple is under investigation by the French competition authority, which has raided the company's offices in France, and those of several distributors, a spokesman for the authority said Monday.

The spokesman declined to say which distributors were raided, nor why Apple and its distributors were under investigation.

The Autorité de la Concurrence can take action against anticompetitive activities such as the formation of cartels or abuse of a dominant market position either on its own initiative or as a result of a complaint.

In this case it's not clear what prompted the authority's action but in April last year, Apple reseller eBizcuss filed suit against Apple at the Paris Commercial Court, accusing it of abuse of a dominant market position. However, before the case reached trial eBizcuss went into liquidation, and its eight stores retailing Apple products have now closed.

Former staff said Apple gave eBizcuss strict specifications for how to decorate its stores and train its staff, and ordered it to sell mostly Apple-branded products. Failure to follow those rules would have cost it a wholesale price discount that allowed it to match Apple's retail prices, a former employee said last year.

Discounts of another sort may also be the reason for the competition authority's raid last week, according to French Apple news site Mac4Ever, which cited reports from unnamed sources that resellers were increasing their margins by profiting from rebate offers intended for end users.

The competition authority's spokesman declined to name the distributors whose offices had been raided, and said the authority did not usually comment on investigations in progress. In this instance, it only commented because local media had received notice of the investigation by other channels, and asked about the raids directly.

The duration of an investigation can vary widely, but on average will take around 18 months, after which the authority may choose to take action, or to let the matter drop. The authority will not comment again on this investigation unless it chooses to take action, the spokesman said.

An Apple spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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