U.S. judge approves delay in Justice Dept-InBev beer fight

WASHINGTON, March 20 Wed Mar 20, 2013 10:38am EDT

WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) - The judge hearing a fight between the U.S. Justice Department and Anheuser-Busch InBev SA over the brewer's expansion plans has agreed to extend a delay in the case until April 9.

Sources who follow the industry have said they see the delay as a sign that the sides were getting closer to an agreement, noting that the Justice Department might not be willing to extend if they did not think progress would be made.

In approving the request, Judge Richard Roberts ordered the Justice Department and AB InBev to either file a settlement by April 9 or come up with a schedule for the court to hear the dispute.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit on Jan. 31 aimed at stopping AB InBev, the world's largest brewer with some 200 brands, from buying the 50 percent of Mexico's Grupo Modelo that it does not already own for $20.1 billion.

The two sides agreed to stop the court proceedings during settlement talks. The initial deadline was March 19 but they requested an extension last week.

"An extension of the stay will likely enable the parties to complete their discussions regarding the possibility of a resolution," the Justice Department and AB InBev said in a filing on Friday.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It is United States of America v. Anheuser-Busch InBev and Grupo Modelo. The case is No. 13-cv-00127.

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