DEFINITION of 'Ombudsman'

An official who investigates complaints (usually lodged by private citizens) against businesses, financial institutions and/or the government. An ombudsman can be likened to a private investigator; although the decision is not typically binding, it does carry considerable weight with those who are sanctioned to uphold the rules and regulations pertaining to each specific case. When appointed, the ombudsman is typically paid via levies and case fees.


One high-profile case featuring an ombudsman, was the European Commission's antitrust action against Intel in 2009. After European Union antitrust regulators fined Intel over a billion dollars in May of that year, an ombudsman claimed that he had "found maladministration" in the commission's investigation of the chip maker. The ombudsman pointed out that the commission had failed to properly document a meeting with Dell Inc. in 2006 that was relevant to the case.

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