Deloitte's office in the Netherlands is preparing for a lawsuit by a group of investors there over its audits of food distributor Royal Ahold in a case that could cost the firm hundreds of millions of euros.

Shareholders are also suing the former chief executive of Ahold, Cees van Hoeven. A prior damages claim has already failed in U.S. courts, but Deloitte was criticized earlier this year by a Dutch disciplinary council for registered accountants, according to Thomson Financial.

Pieter Lakeman of SOBI, a Dutch financial market watchdog group, is helping put together the new claim. Deloitte was surprised by the latest lawsuit. "Deloitte has learnt from the media that Stichting AHDeloitteClaim is preparing to bring a claim against Deloitte," the company said in a statement. "As long as Deloitte has not been informed of the grounds for the claim, it cannot formulate a substantive replication. In general terms, Deloitte wishes to reiterate that it has acted professionally and in good faith in the Ahold case. As soon as Deloitte suspected fraud at U.S. Foodservice and sideletters at Ahold, Deloitte has taken responsible action. This was also confirmed by the U.S. court at the time."

The firm added that it was "astonished" to learn that the claim is being brought while the appeal against the disciplinary committee's decision is pending. "In fact, three parts of the claim from SOBI were dismissed as unfounded," said Deloitte. "One part of the claim was accepted as well-founded."

Both Deloitte and SOBI have appealed the decision before the Judicial Committee for Appeal in Enterprise Disputes. A decision is expected in the spring of 2008. Deloitte said it "is looking forward to the decision with confidence," noting that its "confidence is based also on the fact that the American court acquitted Deloitte in the American claim proceedings."

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