Marine Harvest Gets EU Objections on Early Deal Closing

Marine Harvest ASA, the world’s biggest salmon farmer, risks fines after European Union merger regulators accused it of taking control of salmon producer Morpol ASA before it sought their approval for the purchase.

Marine Harvest, controlled by billionaire John Fredriksen, took control of Oslo-based Morpol by buying a 48.5 percent stake in the company in December 2012, eight months before it asked the EU to examine the deal, the European Commission said in an e-mailed statement today.

“The early implementation” of a transaction “affects the structure of the market and may make it more difficult for the commission to restore effective competition where necessary,” the commission said. “Any infringement of these obligations is serious since it undermines the very essence of EU merger control.”

While Marine Harvest can challenge today’s EU’s so-called statement of objections and request an oral hearing, the company risks fines as much as 10 percent of its annual sales if the EU’s antitrust watchdog doesn’t budge from its initial assessment. Electrabel SA, a Belgian unit of GDF Suez SA, was ordered to pay 20 million euros ($27.6 million) by the EU in 2009 for taking over another company more than four years before it sought formal clearance.

“Marine Harvest does not expect” possible fines “to be material,” the company said in an e-mailed statement. The probe doesn’t affect EU approval for the takeover of Morpol, it said.

Marine Harvest shares fell by as much as 3 percent in Oslo trading after the EU announcement.

The Bergen, Norway-based company was told by the EU to sell most of Morpol’s Scottish salmon-farming business in Shetland and the Orkneys to allay concerns that the deal may have led to higher prices. It made a mandatory public offer for the 51.5 percent of Morpol it didn’t own in January 2013, completing the acquisition in November 2013.

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