Intel chief executive Paul Otellini: human rights victim. The Intel boss is probably languishing in a dank prison in Egypt right now, with electrodes attached to his fingers. That is, going by his company's defence against European antitrust punishments.
The European Union is using an ordinary legal proceeding to punish Intel for its allegedly monopolistic stifling of competition in the microprocessor market. That's a human rights violation? Intel says so and is using that novel - and frankly outrageous - stratagem as a lever to wiggle out from under a €1.06bn fine levied by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm.
Unlike the US Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission, the Europeans have been quick to crack down on monopolies or near-monopolies such as Microsoft and Intel. Can you imagine a US official saying something like: "Intel has harmed millions of European consumers by deliberately acting to keep competitors out of the market for computer chips for many years"? Well, Neelie Kroes, the EU's top antitrust regulator, did say it, adding: "If we smell that there is something rotten in the state, we act."
According to the EU, Intel crossed the line between legitimate, tough-minded competition and monopolistic bullying by threatening to withdraw volume discounts to computer makers, including Acer, Dell, HP and NEC, that also bought microprocessors from rival AMD. Intel also paid manufacturers to delay the launch of AMD-based computers and paid a retailer, Media Saturn Holding, to sell only Intel-based machines, the EU said. (Media Saturn operates the Media Markt chain in Germany.)
Violating Intel's rights?
Intel has consistently denied the EU's charges, as well as somewhat similar ones levied by South Korea, Japan and the United States. That's to be expected. But with prospects on appeal not looking great, the company has challenged the legitimacy of the EU process, likening the commission to a kangaroo court and raising the spectre of human rights violation.
The logic is twisted, but it appears that Intel is objecting to the power granted to Kroes, who supervises investigations and decides whether the target is guilty and what the punishment should be. Intel and some other companies charged with antitrust violations say that the administrative procedure doesn't allow them a full opportunity to defend themselves. In effect, they want to be treated as criminals and thus have the right to be tried in a more conventional courtroom trial.
Next page: two decades of bullying >>