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EU dangles $6bn threat over Google in endless search abuse probe

Sanctions the 'logical next step', warns Brussels' antitrust boss

Formal charges will be meted out to Google if its latest offer to tweak its search engine in Europe fails to satisfy regulators, Brussels stressed today.

The American web giant is accused of abusing its dominance position in search – for example, allegedly unfairly burying its rivals way down in its web search results.

The European Commission's soon-to-exit competition chief Joaquin Almunia told MEPs on Tuesday that Google faces charges if it cannot reach a settlement to end the four-year-long antitrust probe.

The warning comes after Google was given yet another chance to improve its settlement proposal.

Almunia said "the logical next step is to move to a Statement of Objections" if Google's fourth stab at tweaking its settlement offer proves inadequate, the Wall Street Journal reported. The ultimate end of the road for Google in this case is an EU fine of up to 10 per cent of the company’s global turnover – that's $6bn (£3.7bn).

The competition chief has come under intense pressure from critics of the EC investigation, who claim that Almunia had played into the hands of Google by gifting it with multiple opportunities to renegotiate a deal with Brussels.

But he dismissed such dissenting voices today.

"Microsoft was investigated [for] 16 years, which is four times as much as the Google investigation has taken, and there are more problems with Google than there were with Microsoft," Almunia was quoted as saying.

Whether or not Google submits a fresh offer by October, it remains highly likely that the competition case will be handed over to Almunia's successor. ®

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