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Branson role in Coca-Cola raids

RICHARD BRANSON'S Virgin Cola was one of the complainants that sparked raids by European Commission investigators on Coca-Cola offices in four European countries, The Independent has learnt.

Mr Branson and other European competitors have complained about the drinks giant's alleged tactics against its rivals.

Allegations before Karel Van Miert, the EC competition commissioner, include claims that Coca-Cola has used a range of anti-competitive practices, such as rewarding retailers for only stocking Coca-Cola products and giving them lucrative bonuses for hitting targets set by Coca-Cola executives.

The complaint by Richard Branson was made in 1996. Others stem from 1989 when the EC launched an investigation in Italy into Coca-Cola's pricing policy. Complaints have been lodged by Virgin Cola, Pernod, Pepsi and the Italian supermarket chain Esse Lunga.

Coca-Cola yesterday confirmed the raids on its offices in Austria, Denmark, Germany and in Hammersmith, west London. An EC spokeswoman said the raids were part of an investigation into whether Coca-Cola was abusing its dominant market position.

A spokesman for Coca-Cola said: "We believe we are within full compliance of all competition laws and regulations, and we are co-operating fully with the authorities."

The investigation was welcomed last night by Coca-Cola's arch-rival Pepsi, which lodged its own complaint last year.

Last month Coca-Cola was at the centre of a health scare, when dozens of Belgian children complained of stomach pains and nausea after drinking coke.