Microsoft has moved closer to European sanctions for monopolising the internet browser market by withdrawing from oral hearings scheduled to take place in Brussels next month.
Microsoft said it had pulled out of the hearings set for 3-5 June because important European anti-trust officials would have been unable to attend, according to the Financial Times.
The US software company claimed it had asked the European Commission (EC) for alternative dates, but none had been offered.
The hearings stem from a December 2007 complaint by Norwegian browser company Opera Software that Microsoft is abusing its monopoly in operating systems to gain advantage for its browser, Internet Explorer.
Lawyers for Opera disputed Microsoft's claims, accusing it of trying to avoid facing its critics, which include Google, Mozilla and Symantec.
The EC is reported to be just weeks away from making a decision on whether or not to impose a fine and other sanctions against Microsoft in the browser case.
European regulators sent the company a statement of objections earlier this year after carrying out investigations in response to Opera's complaint.
Microsoft filed a defence late last month and requested an oral hearing, but if it fails to appear, the EC is free to move ahead to making a ruling in the case in the coming weeks.
In 2004, the EC was successful in its monopoly abuse case against Microsoft for linking its media player to Windows, fining the software maker £497m.