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Ahold Could Be Forced to Raise Stake in Scandinavian Retailer

AMSTERDAM - Dutch retailer Ahold, which is trying to cut debt through asset sales, may be forced to buy an additional 20 percent in leading Nordic retailer ICA AB after a Norwegian investment firm put the stake up for sale, Reuters reports.

According to an Ahold spokesperson, Norway's Canica AS had offered its 20 percent holding in ICA AB to the third partner in the joint venture, ICA Forbundet (IFAB), a grouping of ICA store managers.

Ahold, which owns just under 50 percent of ICA AB, may have to buy all or part of the stake if IFAB turns down the offer. Canica is an investment vehicle controlled by Norwegian by Norwegian businessman Stein Erik Hagen, who recently broached the idea of a full buyout of ICA AB.

Ahold has slated 2.1 billion euros ($2.55 billion) for the possibility it may have to buy out both partners from ICA AB. Of this, 840 million euros is reserved for the Canica stake. The grocer had originally earmarked 1.3 billion euros and later 1.8 billion as ICA's results improved.

The final price still depends on a legal challenge by Canica, started in November last year over the valuation of the retailer under a contract between the partners. A ruling is not expected before August 2004.
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