BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese academic who sat on a government anti-monopoly advisory committee has been sacked, official news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday, saying he had taken payments from U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm Inc.
Xinhua said Zhang Xinzhu, a member of the top government think-tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the cabinet’s anti-monopoly experts committee, took “huge rewards” from Qualcomm, itself the subject of an antitrust investigation.
An array of industries has come under the spotlight as China intensifies efforts to bring companies into compliance with an anti-monopoly law enacted in 2008.
Calls and emails to Qualcomm’s media relations department in Beijing seeking comment went unanswered. There was no immediate response to emails requesting comment sent to the company’s U.S. headquarters in San Diego.
In a short, emailed response to questions from Reuters, Zhang wrote: “(My) individual strength is too insignificant, and the machine of state too powerful. There can only be silence”.
Xinhua is the state news agency. Official announcements are sometimes made via Xinhua, rather than government departments.
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), one of China’s antitrust regulators, is investigating Qualcomm’s local subsidiary.
The NDRC said in February the chipmaker was suspected of overcharging and abusing its market position in wireless communication standards, allegations which could see it hit with record fines of more than $1 billion.
Xinhua said “certain multinational companies” had been attempting to delay such probes into them, including spending money to gain support on experts groups and complaining of being picked on for being foreign.
“Against this backdrop, hiring relevant ‘experts’ from government departments to ‘speak on behalf of foreign companies’ is a violation of discipline ... This matter should be gotten to the bottom of and bought to light,” Xinhua wrote.
Xinhua said Zhang had “contravened work discipline” and been removed from his position on the committee, the report said.
The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China on Wednesday expressed its concern over the series of antitrust investigations, saying China was using strong-arm tactics and appeared to be unfairly targeting foreign firms.
The auto sector has been under particular scrutiny, and the NDRC, China’s state planner, has been investigating it amid accusations by state media that global car makers are overcharging consumers.
European car brands including Volkswagen AG’s Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are scrambling to lower prices for new cars and spare parts in an effort to appease Chinese regulators who have accused some of them of anti-competitive behavior.
Chinese authorities say the law is applied to both domestic and foreign firms, with the aim of protecting consumers. The NDRC has said it has targeted domestic telecoms companies, including China Unicom and China Telecom Corp, and domestic financial institutions for anti-trust practices.
U.S. companies aside from Qualcomm have also been caught up in the investigations, including software giant Microsoft Corp.
Such investigations have rekindled concerns that the Chinese government may be using the anti-monopoly law to support domestic firms at the expense of foreign companies.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by David Clarke