updated 1/23/2004 12:16:43 PM ET 2004-01-23T17:16:43

The U.S. Justice Department is moving closer to a decision to block Oracle Corp’s $7.3 billion hostile bid for PeopleSoft Inc, the Wall Street Journal said on Friday.

Citing lawyers close to the case, the paper said that government lawyers, who deposed Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison this week, are gathering evidence to be used in a possible suit in a San Francisco federal court to challenge the deal on antitrust grounds.

A final decision will not be made before the end of February, but the Justice Department is leaning against recommending approval of the deal, the paper quoted the lawyers as saying.

If Justice Department staff recommend the government seek to block the deal, Oracle’s lawyers will have a final chance to dispute their arguments, it said.

Oracle officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

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