Ahold: No Deadline on Foodservice Probe

LONDON - Ahold announced on Friday that it has no fixed deadline for an internal investigation of its accounting.

The world's third-largest retailer, based in Amsterdam, stunned financial markets last month when it disclosed a $500 million overstatement of profits at its U.S. Foodservice unit.

An internal forensic probe into the affair will be given all the time it needs to determine the facts, a spokeswoman told Reuters.

"The focus is on accuracy rather than speed," she said. "They want to make absolutely sure that they get it right."

The internal probe is just one of several currently in progress into accounting practices at Foodservice, where income from "vendor allowances", or discounts, was booked as a credit but did not materialize as hard cash.

Ahold has not disclosed the firm that is working on the investigation. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Maryland attorney general's office are also conducting separate probes, as are the Dutch financial watchdog and Euronext, the exchange on which Ahold has its main stock listing.

In a separate case, a Uruguayan court is to summon past and present executives, including deposed Chief Executive Cees van der Hoeven and ousted CFO Michiel Meurs, to testify about alleged fraud at a bank owned by Velox, Ahold's former partner in the Disco Ahold joint venture.

Ahold said its board is pressing ahead with a review of all of its strategic options, which are certain to include the disposal of non-core assets as it struggles to slash a 12.3 billion euro ($13.3 billion) debt pile.

In addition to expected moves to look at a sale of its Central European, Asian,
Spanish and Latin American assets, banking sources said the company is likely also to look at selling its Swedish joint venture ICA Ahold.

In related news, Argentine supermarket chain Disco S.A., the local unit of Ahold NV, on Thursday requested a delay in releasing its fourth-quarter results so that it can revise its accounts.
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