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Prysmian, Nexans Challenge EU Over Unlawful Raids, Copied Disks

Prysmian SpA said European Union antitrust officials copied executives’ computer hard drives during antitrust raids without explaining why they needed the data, harming its ability to defend itself in the case.

The European Commission’s formal decision to order inspections in 2009 failed to adequately define the goal of the raid, during which officials mined the contents of entire hard drives of several managers, a lawyer for the company told a hearing at the EU’s second-highest court.

The company was put in a position of “grave uncertainty” about its defenses, Claudio Tesauro, a lawyer for Prysmian, told a three-judge panel of the EU General Court in Luxembourg today.

Prysmian and Nexans SA, two companies the commission is investigating for their alleged collusion in a power cable cartel, want the court to annul as illegal the regulator’s January 2009 decision under which the antitrust raids were ordered. In July this year, the companies said they received EU antitrust complaints over allegations of price-fixing for undersea and underground high-voltage power cables.

Prysmian lawyer Tesauro said the EU antitrust complaint, or statement of objections, showed the commission had focused exclusively on high-tension cables, a fact the company wasn’t aware of in the wake of the 2009 raids.

The commission showed a lack of precision in its formal decision ordering the raids, by saying the inspections concerned electric cables, said Tesauro, a lawyer with law firm Bonelli Erede Pappalardo. That affected Prysmian’s ability to defend itself, he said.

Company’s Defense

The commission’s inspection decision is important “because at the moment of a raid that’s the only reference a company has to evaluate how it can defend itself,” he said.

Taking copies of the hard drives was a “preparatory act” for the commission’s probe that could result in a finding of an infringement of antitrust rules, said Vittorio di Bucci, a lawyer for the Brussels-based commission.

As to defining the goal of the inspection, di Bucci said giving companies more details “would risk seriously interfering with the inspections.”

“The company in this case knew exactly what the commission had taken” which should have given it an indication what the probe focused on.

The cases are: T-140/09, Prysmian, Prysmian Cavi and Sistemi Energia v. Commission, T-135/09, Nexans France and Nexans v. Commission.

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