A class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of two institutional investors claims that computer manufacturer Dell Inc. inflated its profits with secret payments of about $1 billion a year from chip maker Intel Corp.

The lawsuit, filed by the class-action firm of lawsuit firm of Lerach, Coughlin, Stoia, Geller, Rudman & Robbins LLP, named Dell and 16 current and former officials; Intel; and Dell's accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, as defendants.

The suit is seeking class-action status for investors who bought Dell stock from February 2003 to September 2006, alleging that Dell concealed problems in its accounting and product quality (last year’s massive recall of faulty laptop computer batteries) from shareholders.

Spokesmen for Dell have declined comment, while spokespeople for Intel vowed to fight the lawsuit, saying that the company had nothing wrong.

The lawsuit was filed last week, the same day the company announced that founder Michael S. Dell would be returning as the company’s chief executive.

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