The European Commission official due to take charge of the antitrust case against Microsoft next month has been offered a job by a Brussels-based consultancy that lists Microsoft among its clients.
Henri Piffaut, deputy head of the unit handling the long-running antitrust case, has asked for leave from his civil servant position in the Commission on personal grounds, said the Commission's competition spokesman Jonathan Todd.
"The situation is fluid. The Commission hasn't responded to the request yet and for the time being he remains an employee here," he said.
Piffaut is due to take over the top job in the unit next month from Cecilio Madero Villarejo, who has led it for the past seven years. He joined the unit as deputy head earlier this year.
Despite the hiccup over replacing Villarejo, the antitrust case against Microsoft is unlikely to be affected by Piffaut's request to leave, Todd said. "I can't see this causing any delays," he said.
If Piffaut is denied leave, he would have to give up his career at the Commission. He could also be prevented from working on cases he was linked to while serving as an antitrust official at the Commisison, the European Union's executive body.
Piffaut has been asked to join LECG, an international firm of consultants, to head up a team of economists working on merger cases in the Brussels office.
Microsoft's spokesman in Brussels, Tom Brookes, said he had heard about Piffaut's possible job change but declined to comment further.
Four years ago Microsoft hired Detlef Eckert, a senior Commission official in the information society department, whose job included overseeing the antitrust investigation being conducted by his colleagues in the competition department. Eckert was not bound by the tough conflict of interest rules that apply to antitrust officials.