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Hungarian Antitrust Body Confirms Investigation Into MasterCard

Aug. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Hungary’s antitrust regulator confirmed that it’s investigating alleged abuses by MasterCard Inc., the world’s second-biggest payments network, over the company’s dominant position on the interbank market.

Interbank commissions charged by MasterCard, whose market share exceeds 75 percent in Hungary, “may serve to squeeze out” its “only serious competitor,” Visa Europe Ltd., on which the European Commission has imposed price limits, the Budapest-based regulator said today by e-mail.

MasterCard was informed of the investigation in June, the company said Aug. 1 in a quarterly report. The probe focuses on a period beginning December 2010, it said.

Visa Europe, which operates the European Union’s largest payment-card network, has received an antitrust complaint from the bloc’s regulators over the fees it charges to process cross-border credit-card payments.

Visa Europe’s so-called multilateral interchange fees “harm competition between acquiring banks, inflate the cost of payment card acceptance for merchants and ultimately increase consumer prices,” the commission said July 31 in an e-mailed statement. The company can defend itself in writing or seek a hearing before EU regulators decide on fines that could reach 10 percent of annual sales.

Hungary’s antitrust regulator fined MasterCard and Visa Europe 477 million forint ($2.1 million) each in 2009, saying they colluded with local banks on fees charged to credit-card customers between 1996 and 2008. MasterCard, which denies any wrongdoing and appealed that decision, paid the fine in the fourth quarter of 2009.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zoltan Simon in Budapest at zsimon@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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