European Commission (EC) officials descended unannounced for inspections at the premises of companies that are active in the e-book (electronic or digital books) publishing sector in several Member States yesterday. Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anticompetitive practice. 

In a statement released today the EC said it has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

Apple, Google and Amazon, while not mentioned in the statement, are among those involved in the e-book trade. The companies investigated were not identified in the statement.

"The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities," ran the statement. "The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings."

There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.