Microsoft has cancelled plans to hold a face-to-face hearing with European antitrust authorities and rivals scheduled for the first week of June, claiming it wouldn't get a fair audience because senior E.U. officials will be absent.
"We believe that holding the hearing at a time when key officials are out of the country would deny Microsoft our effective right to be heard and hence deny our 'rights of defense' under European law," said Dave Heiner, Microsoft's vice president and deputy general counsel.
Microsoft requested an oral hearing last month when it submitted its formal written response to accusations by the European Commission, Europe's top antitrust authority, that it broke antitrust laws by bundling its Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser in with the Windows operating system.
The Commission proposed June 3-5 for the hearing but Microsoft late Thursday said the dates clash with an annual competition law conference in Zurich, Germany, attended by the most senior Commission antitrust officials.
It asked for a different date but this request was denied, according to Microsoft.
The Commission wasn't immediately available to comment.
The software giant's excuse for cancelling is "ludicrous," said Thomas Vinje, the legal representative of Opera, a rival browser maker whose complaint to the Commission in 2007 sparked the new antitrust case against Microsoft.
Top officials don't show up to individual case hearings, Vinje said. "Such people simply don't attend, and Microsoft knows it," he said in an e-mail to IDG early Friday.
He concluded that Microsoft is "afraid of facing the questions and evidence" from the Commission and from those aligned against it, including not only Opera but also Mozilla, maker of Firefox and Microsoft's nearest rival in the browser market in Europe; Google, maker of the Chrome browser; security software maker Symantec; and industry groups the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), and the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE).