European Regulators Raid Cell Phone Companies

European Regulators Raid Cell Phone Companies


”European regulators raided the offices of Vodafone and eight other mobile phone operators today and combed through documents they believed would offer evidence that the companies had set artificially high prices for some services.

The coordinated, surprise inspections cap a 17-month inquiry into roaming prices — the fees that mobile operators collect for transferring customers to other networks and are the latest example yet of the growing prowess of European regulators, led by the competition commissioner, Mario Monti.

In the last year alone, Mr. Monti has presided over investigations into allegations that banks were fixing the euro exchange rate and that music companies colluded in setting prices for compact discs. In perhaps his most audacious so far, Mr. Monti last week thwarted General Electric’s attempts to acquire Honeywell International, marking the first time that a European regulator blocked a combination of two American companies. Mr. Monti’s decision was all the more unusual because it contrasted with antitrust officials in the United States, who had approved the deal.

“Mr. Monti has shown that he is determined to apply the rules, despite the political sensitivity of a situation, or the amount of lobbying against him,” said Guy Lougher, an antitrust lawyer with Wragge & Company, in Birmingham, England.

The raids carried out today are one of the most powerful investigative tools of European regulators. In the United States, officials must first submit to lengthy court hearings before companies are required to turn over confidential information, antitrust lawyers said.”