Fox branch raided by European Commission in final weeks before competition watchdog's report due on Sky takeover

The office of Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox Networks Group in London has been raided in an unannounced inspection as the European Commission investigated “suspected anti-competitive practices”.

Companies in several other EU states, including Netherlands-based Ziggo Sport, were also searched in the investigation which is looking into the distribution of sports media rights.

In a statement, an FNG spokesperson said the company was “cooperating fully” with the inspection.

FNG is an operating unit of owner 21st Century Fox and distributes entertainment, sport, factual and movie channels around the world.

The investigation is separate to 21st Century Fox’s proposed takeover of Sky, which is currently being investigated by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.

The CMA has raised preliminary concerns over media plurality which may mean the £11.7bn deal is not in the public interest. It is due to send its final report to the Culture Secretary by 1 May.

Following the raid yesterday, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson tweeted: “The raid on Fox offices is very concerning.

“If they have violated EU laws the Competitions and Markets Authority needs to know. That must influence whether the Sky deal is approved.”

In April last year, the EC unconditionally approved the takeover under the EU Merger Regulation, concluding it would raise no competition concerns in Europe.

CMA officials assisted the EC in its raid at FNG’s office in Hammersmith, west London yesterday.

The EC is normally accompanied by its counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities in any of its member states.

It said it has concerns that the companies involved in the investigation may have “violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices”.

However the authority added that the inspection did not mean FNG was guilty of anti-competitive behaviour.

A statement said: “Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anti-competitive practices.

“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 by which such inquiries into suspected anti-competitive conduct must be completed.

Picture: Google Street View

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