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Professor Neil Barrett in legal battle over £2.46m costs claim
A COMPUTER expert from East Yorkshire is being sued by the European Commission (EC) for almost £2.5 million in a case involving one of the world’s biggest companies.
Professor Neil Barrett was appointed by the EC in 2005 to independently monitor the American software giant Microsoft, after the EC ruled its PC operating systems had broken a ban on the abuse of monopoly power.
Microsoft was ordered to pay hundreds of millions of Euros, including the former University of York lecturer’s £250,000 annual salary. But the company later successfully appealed in the European courts against this element of the ruling, leaving the EC to pick up the bill.
Now the commission has lodged a claim at the High Court In Leeds for £2.46 million in damages from Prof Barrett, claiming breaches of contract and trust.
The commission says in its claim that in 2004, it decided Microsoft had infringed Article 82 of the EC Treaty by abusing its dominant position in the marketplace.
It ordered the company to pay a fine of 497 million Euros, offer for sale a version of Windows without Windows Media Player and fund an independent monitoring trustee to monitor compliance with the decision. Prof Barrett was appointed as that trustee in October 2005 and he became sole director of a new company, Monitoring Trustee Ltd (MTL).
In 2007 the European Court Of First Instance in Luxembourg upheld the fine, but decided the Commission rather than Microsoft should have to pay the trustee’s costs.
In 2008, using evidence obtained by Prof Barrett, the Commission fined Microsoft an additional 899 million Euros, on top of 280 million Euros imposed in 2006 and the original 497 million Euros in 2004.
The commission instructed accountants to draw up independent audit reports of MTL. The accountants concluded MTL had paid Prof Barrett money that was not claimable under the terms of a Trustee mandate, including £25,000 for attending the court hearing in Luxembourg.
The accountants also concluded that the difference between what Microsoft had paid for the costs of operations linked to the monitoring trustee and what had been spent to cover those costs was £2.46 million. The claim states Prof Barrett failed to act honestly and in good faith, and abused his position of trust and confidence.
But Prof Barrett’s defence papers deny many of the commission’s claims. For example, they say the commission asked him to attend the court hearing, and arranged his hotel accommodation and attendance, and they deny such attendance was inappropriate.
Prof Barrett declined to comment. A commission spokesman said proceedings were issued in the High Court of Justice Leeds District Registry on July 2 last year, but there had been no oral hearing as yet. He said as the matter was sub-judice, he could make no further comment.