French antitrust regulator fines Apple $1.2 billion

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s competition watchdog on Monday fined iPhone maker Apple 1.1 billion euros ($ 1.23 billion), saying it was guilty of anti-competitive behavior towards its distribution and retail network.

The logo of U.S. technology company Apple is seen at a branch office in Basel, Switzerland March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The fine, the biggest ever levied by the French antitrust body, comes at a time of heightened scrutiny on U.S. tech giants by European regulators, who have been delving into the firms’ powerful market position, the tax they pay, and how they protect consumers’ privacy.

Apple said it would appeal the watchdog’s ruling, which it said was at odds with legal precedent in France.

In its decision, the French regulator said Apple imposed prices on retail premium resellers so that the prices were aligned with those charged by the California firm in its own shops, or on the Internet.

The watchdog said Apple’s two wholesalers in France fully followed the U.S. company’s instructions on how to allocate its products to customers, instead of freely determining their commercial policy.

“Apple and its two wholesalers agreed not to compete with each other and to prevent distributors from competing with each other, thereby sterilizing the wholesale market for Apple products,” the watchdog said in a statement.

The two wholesalers, Tech Data and Ingram Micro, were fined 76 million and 63 million euros respectively, the authority said. Tech Data had no immediate comment to make and Ingram Micro could not immediately be reached.

“The French competition authority’s decision is disheartening,” Apple said in a statement announcing it planned to appeal.

“It relates to practices from over a decade ago and discards 30 years of legal precedent that all companies in France rely on with an order that will cause chaos for companies across all industries.”

Since her nomination as the head of the French competition authority in 2016, Isabelle de Silva has set her sights on U.S. tech companies, including Alphabet Inc’s Google, which was fined 150 million euros ($167 million) for opaque advertising rules.

Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain, Editing by Dominique Vidalon and Christian Lowe