Business & Finance

Time appears to be running out for Microsoft to avoid a heavy fine for its alleged violations of competition law in Europe. The Financial Times reported that the competition section of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, concluded Monday after 3-1/2 years of investigation that the software giant "abused its dominant position in the personal computer market" and should be assessed a penalty. Among other issues, Microsoft is accused of bundling its Media Player software with Windows programs in a way that shuts out competitors' innovations and protects any technologies that the Redmond, Wash., company might "conceivably take an interest in and tie with Windows in the future." The commission's 20 members still must vote on the matter, but they rarely reject the findings of the competition panel. The Financial Times said the commission intends to conclude the issue before May 1, the date on which the EU expands by 10 members. A Microsoft spokesman said the company is "actively and constructively" engaged in ongoing negotiations with the European Commission and still hopes to reach a settlement.

Sovereign Bancorp agreed to pay $1.1 billion in stock for Seacoast Financial Services Monday, the latest in a series of consolidations in the industry. With the acquisition of Seacoast, based in New Bedford, Mass., Sovereign will obtain 67 branches of CompassBank, Nantucket Bank, and Abington Bancorp, all small Massachusetts institutions that Seacoast is in the process of acquiring. Sovereign is based in Philadelphia. Sovereign officials warned there would be some job losses and closures of branches.

MCI, the former WorldCom, has sufficient grounds to sue former top executives Bernard Ebbers and Scott Sullivan, auditors Arthur Andersen and KPMG, and investment bank Salomon Smith Barney for their alleged roles in the massive fraud at the telecommunications giant, a new report by a bankruptcy court examiner found. But the report by former US Attorney General Richard Thornburgh stopped short of recommending civil action. MCI, which expects to emerge from bankruptcy soon, said it has been reviewing potential litigation and will pursue claims with "a strong likelihood of a positive outcome."

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