Apple has been fined a record €1.1bn (£990m) by antitrust regulators in France for engaging in anti-competitive agreements with two wholesalers. The penalty imposed on the US tech giant is the largest ever handed out to a company by the Autorité de la Concurrence.
Commenting on the move, Isabelle de Silva, head of the French competition watchdog, said: “Apple and its two wholesalers agreed to not compete against each other and prevent resellers from promoting competition between each other, thus sterilising the wholesale market for Apple products.”
The watchdog said Apple had conspired with the two wholesalers, Tech Data and Ingram Micro, and behaved in such a way that aligned prices and limited wholesale competition for Apple products such as Apple Mac computers and iPads, but not iPhones.
The other two French companies were also fined. Tech Data was handed a €76m penalty and Ingram Micro was ordered to pay €63m.
The regulator alleged that Apple favoured certain wholesalers more than others, allocating them more stock when new products were launched, leaving others with insufficient stock to meet customer demand.
Autorité de la Concurrence said the Apple case was prompted by a complaint lodged by eBizcuss, an Apple premium reseller, in 2012. “This [behaviour from Apple] weakened certain companies, and in some cases, like that of reseller eBizcuss, contributed [to] them leaving the market,” the watchdog said.
Apple said the French decision would “cause chaos for companies across all industries” and said it would appeal. The US company said customers should be allowed to choose the product they want, either through Apple Retail or its large network of resellers across France.
The Apple penalty is the latest move on Silicon Valley by the French competition regulator, which fined Google €150m last year for setting “opaque” rules for its Google Ads advertising platform that were allegedly applied unfairly and randomly.
It also comes as the tax arrangements of US tech firms are coming under greater scrutiny from the European Union.
Apple announced on Saturday that it is closing all its shops outside China for the next two weeks in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The company, which has hundreds of outlets worldwide including dozens in the UK, said it was shutting in an effort to minimise the transmission of the disease.
Tim Cook, chief executive, said: “We must do all we can to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”
Apple stores in China, where the coronavirus outbreak originated, reopened on Saturday and will be exempt from the shutdown as new cases in the country are slowing.