June 16, 2015 / 3:54 PM / in 3 years

Critics due to get EU's Google antitrust charge sheet this week: sources

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Microsoft, German publisher Axel Springer and 17 other critics of Google are expected to get a copy of the EU’s antitrust charge sheet against the search engine giant this week in order to allow them to provide feedback, four people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

A woman walks past a logo of Google at the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) 2015 in Beijing, China, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The 19 companies, which include U.S. online travel site Expedia, U.S. consumer reviews website Yelp, online mapping service Hot-map and British price comparison site Foundem, helped triggered the European Commission’s case against Google nearly five years ago.

That culminated in the EU competition authority levying charges against the world’s most popular Internet search engine two months ago, raising the possibility of a fine of as much as $6.6 billion, 10 percent of its global turnover.

The Commission said Google had abused its market power and cheated consumers and competitors by distorting web search results to favor its own shopping service. The case could radically change the way the company operates in Europe.

Google has until July 7 to respond to the accusations. This can be extended on request. It can also seek a closed-door hearing to argue its case before a broad audience of antitrust officials and the critics.

The complainants were told on Monday to sign confidentiality waivers not to disclose the so-called statement of objections to journalists or public affairs consultants before they could get a copy of the redacted document, according to a Commission letter seen by Reuters.

The critics were told to restrict the charge sheet to their lawyers and economists.

Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso declined to comment. Google spokesman Al Verney was not immediately available to comment.

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has marked her tenure with a series of landmark cases since taking up the job in November, notably charges against Russian gas giant Gazprom and investigations into Amazon, Apple and Starbucks.

Additional reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb in New York; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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