EU Commission lawyers initially opposed warning Amazon on iRobot deal - sources

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By Foo Yun Chee

- European Commission lawyers initially opposed sending a warning to Amazon AMZN.O over its $1.4 billion acquisition of robot vacuum maker iRobot IRBT.O, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.

The Commission's legal service did not think a statement of objections regarding the deal was warranted, in contrast with antitrust officials handling the case, the people said. Without such a charge sheet, the deal would have been cleared unconditionally.

The lawyers subsequently changed their mind and backed antitrust officials' decision to send the charge sheet setting out their concerns, the sources said on condition of anonymity, declining to provide confidential details.

The Commission declined to comment.

Antitrust officials can override objections from the legal service by either tweaking or narrowing their concerns to get their backing or by appealing to the top officials.

Sources had previously told Reuters the deal would be cleared unconditionally.

The EU competition enforcer sent a statement of objections to Amazon on Monday, narrowing the case to concerns about the deal restricting competition in the market for robot vacuum cleaners and dropping initial worries that the deal would strengthen the company's position as an online marketplace provider.

While Amazon might still gain unconditional approval to buy iRobot, the charge sheet indicates that officials are looking to remedies from the company to address their concerns.

The case echoes that of Google which only won the EU green light to buy Fitbit in 2020 after agreeing to restrictions on how it will use customers' health-related data, in effect creating a data silo.

Some of the issues in the Amazon deal are covered in new tech rules known as the Digital Markets Act which sets out a list of dos and don'ts for Big Tech, but antitrust officials do not want those obligations as an excuse to take a more lenient line on the deal, one of the people said.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Richard Chang)

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