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Brussels, 17th May 2006
The European Commission can confirm that on 16th May 2006 Commission officials carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of gas companies in five Member States. The countries concerned are Germany, Italy, France, Belgium and Austria. The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EC-Treaty antitrust rules that prohibit restrictive business practices and/or abuse of a dominant market position (Articles81 and 82 respectively).
The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities.
Surprise inspections are a preliminary step in investigations into suspected anti-competitive practices. The fact that the European Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour or prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The European Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in the Commission’s proceedings against them.
There is no strict deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.