A top European Commission official has left to join the Microsoft Corp, just weeks before he was due to give his opinion on the European antitrust lawsuit against the company.
The commission said Friday it saw no potential conflicts of interest in the move. But rivals of Microsoft said the company has hired away an unsympathetic official at a crucial time in the Europeans' antitrust case against the company.
The official, Detlef Eckert, is taking three years' unpaid leave from his senior post in the information society directorate within the European Commission to work for Microsoft. His duties at the commission included overseeing competition rulings, although he did not work in the antitrust division itself.
A Microsoft spokeswoman said Eckert would be based at the company's offices in Paris and will work within the .Net group, which deals with security issues.
Some competitors to Microsoft, however, suggested that Eckert's chief benefit to Microsoft would be his removal from the antitrust process.
Ed Black, president of a Washington-based trade group called the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said he held meetings with Eckert last year during which they discussed the Microsoft case. The association has been fighting Microsoft on bothsides of the Atlantic.
Eckert could not be reached on Friday for comment.
If Eckert were still in his post he would have been in charge of preparing his directorate's response to the draft decision. Given that the Microsoft case will have important repercussions for the information technology industry, his department's view will be one of the most important contributions from outside of the antitrust division itself.