By Foo Yun Chee

(Reuters) – Intel on Wednesday won its appeal against a 1.06-billion-euro ($1.2 billion) EU antitrust fine handed down to the U.S. chipmaker twelve years ago for stifling a rival, in a major setback for EU antitrust regulators.

The European Commission penalised Intel in 2009 for trying to block rival Advanced Micro Devices by giving rebates to computer makers Dell, Hewlett-Packard Co, NEC and Lenovo for buying most of their chips from Intel.

The Luxembourg-based General Court, Europe’s second-highest, criticised the EU competition enforcer’s analysis and annulled the fine.

” The (European) Commission’s analysis is incomplete and does not make it possible to establish to the requisite legal standard that the rebates at issue were capable of having, or likely to have, anticompetitive effects,” judges said.

The court annulled in its entirety the article of the contested decision which imposed on Intel a fine of 1.06 billion euros in respect of the infringement found.

The same court had in 2014 upheld the Commission’s 2009 decision but was subsequently told by the EU Court of Justice, Europe’s highest, in 2017 to re-examine Intel’s appeal.

Regulators generally do not like rebates, especially those offered by dominant companies, on concerns that they may be anti-competitive. Companies however say regulators must prove rebates have anti-competitive effects before sanctioning them.

The ruling, which is likely to provide cheer to Alphabet unit Google fighting against a trio of hefty EU antitrust fines, can be appealed to the CJEU.

The case is T-286/09 P Intel Corporation v Commission.

($1 = 0.8861 euros)

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Jon Boyle and Louise Heavens)