decide whether to press criminal charges until this summer, according press reports quoting the national prosecutor's office.
Dutch authorities began investigating the international food provider in July 2003, after an accounting scandal broke that forced the company to restate 2000-02 earnings by more than $1 billion. Ahold owns the Stop & Shop and Giant supermarkets in the United States and the second largest American foodservice distributorship U.S. Foodservice, based in Columbia, MD.
Although the bulk of the overstatement was due to exaggerated sales at U.S. Foodservice, the Dutch investigation limits itself to the improper consolidation of Ahold's joint-venture companies in Sweden, Brazil, Guatemala and Argentina.
Ahold improperly booked those companies as if they were fully owned, which greatly exaggerated sales in 2000 and 2001 but had a limited impact on profits.
Investigations are continuing by the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission and Justice Department into the U.S. Foodservice overstatement.
Possible charges in the Dutch case include forgery and publishing incorrect information in annual reports, which carry a maximum prison term of six years and a fine of up to $1.2 million, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.
Investigators have interviewed dozens of witnesses and analyzed internal documents handed over by Ahold and its accountants Deloitte & Touche, the statement said.
Prosecutors said if they decide to press charges, the first hearings in the case would likely be sometime in the fourth quarter of 2004.