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EU fines smart card chip makers for alleged collusion

The European Union has slapped fines on a number of European and Asian smart card chip producers, accusing them of illegally coordinating business decisions. Two of them said the allegations were unfounded.

The EU executive said Wednesday it had fined Germany's Infineon, the Netherlands' Philips and South Korea's Samsung for

violations of EU competition rules

. A fourth company under investigation, Japan's Renesas, avoided a 51-million-euro ($67-million) fine by blowing the whistle on what EU officials believe was a cartel among European and Asian chip makers.

Germany's DAX-listed Infineon received the largest fine of just under 83 million euros for allegedly trading information on prices from 2003 to 2005, the European Commission claimed.

"The cartelists in our view knew that their conduct was illegal, and some of them even took measures to conceal the collusion," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement.

Objections galore

"In this digital era, smart card chips are used by almost everybody, whether in their mobile phones, bank cards or passports," Almunia added. "If companies choose to collude, at the expense of both customers and end consumers, they should expect sanctions."

In a company statement, Infineon rejected the Commission's findings, saying all accusations were "baseless." The German firm announced it was preparing an appeal before the EU's courts.

Philips would also appeal, a spokesman told DPA news agency. The Dutch company was fined 20 million euros. It is no longer in the smart card chip business.

hg/sgb (dpa, Reuters)

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