Ahold Says Ongoing Probe May Involve More Staff

NEW YORK/AMSTERDAM - Royal Ahold said on Friday the financial scandal at its U.S. Foodservice unit may involve more employees than the two managers it initially identified. The disclosure follows Ahold's announcement on Thursday that the probe was "substantially complete" and that two executives, since fired, were behind an $880 million overstatement of profits at the U.S. Foodservice unit.

"The investigation continues to probe the possible involvement by U.S. Foodservice personnel other than the two individuals identified so far," Ahold said.

Kaiser's attorney declined to comment to Reuters, and attempts to reach Lee's attorney were unsuccessful.

Robert Gillison, U.S. Foodservice's treasurer, told Reuters on Thursday that PricewaterhouseCoopers, which conducted the probe, had determined "that in fact it was two people and two people only."

U.S. Foodservice declined to comment on Ahold's Friday statement.

Ahold's newly appointed Chief Executive Anders Moberg will join a supervisory board meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss fallout from the probe at U.S. Foodservice, a supplier to restaurants and hotels that Ahold bought for $3.6 billion in 2000.

The meeting will review the position of the unit's acquisitive chief executive James Miller, who turned the firm into the No. 2 food-service company in the United States behind Sysco Corp. and is an Ahold group executive board member.

Analysts said Moberg will have to draw up an asset disposal plan, as Ahold is carrying 12.3 billion euros in net debt on an equity base that was 4.9 billion euros in September and will likely fall to 4 billion euros.

Interim Chief Financial Officer Dudley Eustace told analysts on Thursday he wanted to bring the debt back to a more "normal" level, without detailing the size or timing.

Eustace said he was cutting capital expenditure by several hundred million euros in 2003 and added he was managing cash very tightly. He declined to indicate any disposal targets or deadlines, but he did say the group had received various expressions of interest for assets in case it wanted to sell.
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