© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Albertsons logo is seen on an Albertsons grocery store, as Kroger agrees to buy rival Albertsons in a deal to combine the two supermarket chains, in Rancho Cucamonga, California, U.S., October 14, 2022. REUTERS/Aude Guerrucci/File Photo
(Reuters) – Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to block grocery chain Albertsons Cos Inc from paying dividends to shareholders before closure of its proposed merger with supermarket operator Kroger (NYSE:) Co.
The $4 billion payout to shareholders “risks severely undercutting the grocery giant’s ability to compete during the lengthy time period government regulators — including Washington — will be scrutinizing the merger,” according to a statement posted to the Washington Attorney General’s website.
Kroger snapped up Albertsons in a $25 billion deal last month, creating a U.S. grocery behemoth to better compete with leader Walmart (NYSE:) Inc on prices, but was expected to run into antitrust roadblocks.
The AG will file a temporary restraining order on Tuesday or Wednesday, which, if granted, will block Albertsons from making the payment while Ferguson’s lawsuit is ongoing.
“Paying out $4 billion before regulators can do their job and review the proposed merger will weaken Albertsons’ ability to continue business operations and compete,” Ferguson said.
Kroger and Albertsons did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the AG’s lawsuit.
Late in October, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said that half-a-dozen state attorneys general are digging into Kroger planned acquisition of Albertsons.