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    Ahold Defends Timing of Accounting Disclosures

    LONDON - Dutch food retailer Ahold defended itself on Sunday against criticism that it waited too long to inform shareholders of accounting irregularities.

    LONDON - Dutch food retailer Ahold defended itself on Sunday against criticism that it waited too long to inform shareholders of accounting irregularities.

    The Financial Times said the global grocery group made key disclosures to securities regulators several days before telling investors. It also noted to reports of an anonymous letter sent to Dutch newspapers on Feb. 21, before the company launched an internal investigation.

    The timing of the disclosures could be key to determining whether any Ahold executives illegally traded shares in the company before news of the accounting scandal hit the group's stock.

    Ahold shares fell nearly two-thirds last Monday after the company said it had discovered a $500 million hole in its accounts related to is U.S. Foodservice division.

    "At no time was there a request from any regulator to make an announcement," Ahold told the FT.

    The group informed the Authority for Financial Markets (AFM), Dutch regulators and the Securities and Exchange Commission days before the news was made public, the FT said.

    However, the AFM said although it did not directly advise Ahold how to proceed, it had asked the company whether it was aware of European securities laws which say a company should disclose accounting problems to shareholders "as soon as possible."

    "A company like Ahold should be aware of the regulation," an AFM spokesman told the paper.

    The FT also reported that two Dutch newspapers said they received an anonymous letter containing allegations of accounting irregularities, bribery and fraud at Ahold on Feb. 21, three days before the company said internal probes had been launched into accounting irregularities.

    Dutch securities regulators have confirmed that the letter forms part of their inquiry into possible insider trading, the paper said. That probe relates to bigger-than-usual share volumes that were traded ahead of the official Ahold announcement last Monday.

    The letter, listing nine allegations, has also been seen by the Dutch Finance Minister Hans Hoogervorst, according to the report.

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