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Ahold to Seek Delay to 2002 Results

AMSTERDAM - Dutch retailer Ahold, embroiled in an accounting scandal, said on Friday it would ask for permission to postpone publication of its disputed 2002 results until the end of November at the latest.

In related news, insurer Aegon, which manages the 151 million euro Albert Heijn loyal clients fund, said the vehicle would no longer invest 50 percent of its funds in Ahold shares in an effort to limit damage from falls in the grocer's stock.

In a statement, the world's number three retailer said it would ask shareholders at its May 13 general meeting to allow it to postpone publication of the 2002 accounts by a maximum of six months from a May 29 deadline.

Ahold said it still planned to publish its 2002 accounts before June 30, as stipulated in the terms of a crucial 3.1 billion-euro ($3.36 billion) bank facility obtained in March.

Approval by the general meeting would give the retailer until the end of November to finalize the results, provided its banks also give it an extension to allow for the completion of investigations into some bookkeeping practices.

The firm confirmed the date of the general meeting, at which it will request approval of nominations to its boards but does not plan to discuss the 2002 results.

Ahold's accountants are awaiting details of alleged bookkeeping errors at its U.S. Foodservice business before continuing their review of the company's 2002 group results.

Ahold's main Dutch operations, meanwhile, are delaying payments to suppliers as part of a move decided last year because the company was settling bills quicker than its peers, a move it hopes will conserve capital and boost liquidity.

Ahold started the clients' fund in 1992. Customers and staff could buy units in the fund, which invested half its capital in Ahold shares and put the rest toward interest-bearing cash advances to the group.

It was named "loyal clients fund" because customers could use the savings stamps they received when shopping towards obtaining units in the fund. The fund now has 151 million euros invested and has 148,000 participants.

In addition to abandoning the 50 percent allocation to Ahold shares, the fund said the firm's Dutch market-leading Albert Heijn grocery chain was guaranteeing repayment of loans made by the fund to parent Ahold.
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