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The Washington Post reports this morning that an anonymous letter has been sent to Dutch financial regulators that makes serious charges against the management of Ahold, saying that the company:

  • Was guilty of making bribes in Argentina, even financing private homes with company funds.

  • Gave out “secret bonuses” to executives in the company’s US Foodservice group.

  • Booked 100 percent of sales and profit for the company’s ICA unit in Scandinavia, while only owning half the company.

The letter also charged that the company’s ousted CFO Michiel Meurs is guilty of a cover up.

The letter offers no proof of the charges and is signed “a very concerned person involved.”

Meanwhile, in the US, the Justice Department reportedly has convened a federal grand jury in the case and is subpoenaing a range of documents for what it is calling a confidential criminal investigation of the company’s actions dating back to January 1999.

Dow Jones reports that the documents that appear to be sought include “information pertaining to Ahold financial statements, audits, budgets and board meetings, as well as promotional-allowance programs,” as well as related to Ahold’s "organizational structure, including that relating to its accounting, bookkeeping, marketing, advertising, merchandising, shipping, promotional, leasing, insurance, information technology, warehouse and inventory departments."
KC's View:
The first reaction to an “anonymous letter” like this one is to discount it. (Actually, the first reaction is to read every word to see what it says; the second reaction is to dismiss it because it is anonymous.)

But these days things aren’t so simple. As it ends up, anonymous letters in the Kmart case seem to have helped investigators identify some of the serious problems plaguing that company.

We’re not suggesting that Ahold is Kmart. Far from it.

But we suspect that unless its charges are disposed of quickly, this anonymous letter will lead to another anonymous letter, and another.

One thing is sure. Ahold needs a new, strong, decisive CEO ASAP…and probably one from outside the company. See our next story…