Commission raids chipmakers in cartel probe

The European Commission has raided the premises of memory chip makers in Germany as part of an investigation into price fixing. It was the preliminary step in an investigation into the possible existence of a cartel.

"The European Commission can confirm that on 11 October 2005 Commission officials carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of several SRAM producers in Germany," said a Commission statement. SRAM is static random access memory, a kind of memory that operates more quickly than dynamic RAM, or DRAM.

"The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated Article 81 of the EC Treaty, which prohibits practices such as price fixing," said the Commission.

The companies involved have not been named, in keeping with the Commission's policy, but Advanced Micro Devices told Reuters that it was not one of the raided companies.

The Department of Justice has begun its own investigation into the SRAM market. Sony has said that it has been subpoenaed to provide information about its SRAM activity, as has Cypress Semiconductor.

A US investigation previously found significant price fixing activity in the DRAM market. A dozen individuals have been charged as a result of the investigation and fines totalling $731 million have been levied against Elpida Memory, Infineon Technologies, Samsung Electronics and Hynix Semiconductor.

"Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected cartels. The fact that the European Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour," said the Commission. "There is no strict deadline to complete cartel inquiries. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate and the exercise of the rights of defence."

The Commission is already investigating competitive practices in the microprocessor market following claims by AMD that Intel has abused its dominant market position. A German case was subsumed into the Commission investigation in September.