EC Casts Net Around Marine Harvest

BRUSSELS (The Deal) -- Did Norwegian salmon farmer Marine Harvest ASA jump the gun on an acquisition completed in December 2012?

The European Commission thinks so. On Monday it sent the New York-listed company a statement of objections, for completing the deal before having permission to do so.

Regulators claim Marine Harvest notified them about the acquisition of a 48.5% stake in Norway's Morpol ASA, the world leader in smoked and marinated salmon processing, only last August, eight months after it purchased the stake for 937.6 million Norwegian kroner ($156.7 million) in cash and shares.

Marine Harvest snapped up Morpol before its failed attempt to take over Oslo-based Cermaq ASA, which later sold its Ewos AS fish-feed unit to Bain Capital LLC and Altor Equity Partners.

After a routine investigation into the Morpol deal, the Commission last September gave Marine Harvest conditional approval to buy Morpol after the buyer agreed to sell farming operations in Scotland. Last week, Marine Harvest announced an agreement to sell operations on Scotland's Shetland and Orkney Islands to Canada's Cooke Aquaculture plc for an enterprise value of 122.5 million pounds ($203.5 million) - though noted that the EC must still approve Cooke Aquaculture as the purchaser, and the transaction itself and the sale terms.

Marine Harvest made no secret of the fact that it completed the Morpol acquisition on Dec. 19, 2012, just two days after announcing the agreement. It announced the deal's completion in a press release, still on its website.

But a press release does not count as an official notification under EU merger rules.

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