Dutch food group Wessanen has said its chief financial officer, Koos Kramer, is to step down after an investigation into the balance sheet of the company's North American unit, Tree of Life.

The investigation began in August 2003 after it was discovered that part of the corrections of €14m (US$17.2m) on Tree of Life's balance sheet taken in the second quarter of 2003 possibly should have been reflected in the unit's results over 2001 and 2002.

Wessanen initiated an investigation, conducted by an independent accounting firm and law firm, to analyse the financial accounting practices and accounting controls and procedures involved. The findings of the investigation recommended certain remedial actions to strengthen accounting and reporting procedures and enhance internal controls at Tree of Life North America, Wessanen said.

The final stage of the investigation reviewed the supervision of the executive board on the accounting and reporting procedures at Tree of Life. The company said that based on this review Kramer is stepping down, but will stay on until a successor has been found.

"The investigation clearly indicates the necessity to adjust behaviour, procedures and processes in the accounting area at Tree of Life North America. It revealed issues that needed to be resolved in order to secure reliable financial statements," said Wessanen CEO Ad Veenhof.

"The fact we have already embarked on far-reaching remedial actions revamping the controls and training in the company and making changes at senior and middle management level, proves to be the right decision. We can now focus on finishing the 2003 auditing process," he added.

Wessanen also reaffirmed its positive outlook for 2004. The company expects that the positive trend of the last two quarters will continue into the first quarter of 2004. For the full year 2004, Wessanen expects a substantial increase in net profit before exceptional items and goodwill amortisation, helped by higher margins on all its activities, but most notably at Tree of Life North America.