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ID NEWS: Investigators reportedly checking possibility of USF/supplier collusion

People "familiar with the situation" say U.S. investigators are looking into the possibility that suppliers "might have colluded" with U.S. Foodservice (USF) in overstating rebates owed to the Columbia, MD, national broadliner, according to the Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, USF parent Royal Ahold is said to be seeking arbitration on compensation packages for Cees van der Hoeven, ceo, and Michiel Meurs, cfo, who resigned following the disclosure of accounting irregularities at USF. More than $500 million in USF promo monies encompassing a two-year period had been overstated. The former Ahold execs are also thought to have been involved in other accounting irregularities not related to USF.

The Journal says that Ahold's "spectacular" growth made top management "very rich" and that any large claim by the two execs would likely meet "shareholder fury."

On a more upbeat note, William Grize, head of Ahold's U.S. supermarket division, says that creditor banks have approved his capital-expenditure program for the year, the Journal reports. Thus, no divestiture of major assets should be necessary in the near term. Grize also says that only two of the division's more than 40,000 suppliers have tightened payment terms for this division, which was not implicated in the issues involving USF.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press says that Henny de Ruiter, Ahold's supervisory chairman, has "ruled out" a net loss for 2002. The company was supposed to report by May 1 but is not certain it will meet this deadline.

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