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Google denies destroying 'chat' evidence in U.S. antitrust lawsuit

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: The logo for Google LLC is seen at the Google Store Chelsea in Manhattan, New York City

By Mike Scarcella

(Reuters) - Alphabet Inc's Google has denied intentionally destroying evidence in the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit over the company's search business, in a response to the government's bid for sanctions in federal court.

The Justice Department last month alleged Google failed to preserve certain internal corporate "chat" communications. The DOJ said Google told U.S. investigators in 2019 that the company had put a hold on allowing auto-deletion of those instant messaging records.

Google said in Friday's filing that the company made "reasonable" efforts to preserve communication records.

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The bid for sanctions stems from lawsuits filed by the DOJ and a group of more than 30 states accusing Google of unlawful exclusionary practices to maintain its search business dominance. Google has denied the claims. The case, filed in 2020, is set to go to trial in September.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on Monday. Lawyers for Google and a representative from the company did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The Justice Department asked U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta to set a hearing regarding the sanctions, but the court has not yet scheduled one.

Mehta last year denied an earlier Justice Department bid for sanctions against Google over claims it was shielding too many documents from review.

In its latest bid for sanctions, the DOJ alleged "Google's daily destruction of written records prejudiced the United States by depriving it of a rich source of candid discussions between Google's executives, including likely trial witnesses."

Google's lawyers said it was "meritless" to contend the company took steps to deprive the plaintiffs from information. Google said it has already disclosed millions of documents and "tremendous volumes of data" as part of the litigation.

The case is United States v. Google LLC, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:20-cv-03010-APM.

(Reporting by Mike Scarcella; editing by Leigh Jones and Richard Chang)