Lawlords have thrown up further obstacles in the quest of Dutch retail giant Ahold to sell its Argentine supermarket subsidiary Disco to Chilean supermarket operator Cencosud.

Competition authorities have been reviewing the proposed sale, which has proved contentious. A federal judge in San Rafael, Mendoza, has now ruled that Cencosud cannot purchase Disco, on the technical grounds that the competition body in question, the National Committee for Defense of Competition, has failed to gather the quorum required to make decisions, reported Dow Jones.

Although the ruling over this technicality is legitimate, media reports speculate that it is also motivated in part by widespread concern that the deal would be anti-competitive.

The US$315m deal, announced early March, would have given Cencosud 62% of Disco, while its investment partners, Capital International, AIG Capital Partners and International Finance Corporation, would have owned the rest. Following the acquisition, Cencosud would have operated Argentina’s second-largest supermarket chain with a 22% market share, with estimated 2004 sales of $3bn.

Cencosud already operates Jumbo supermarkets and Easy home improvement centres in Argentina.