Bayer petitions Russian antitrust watchdog for more time in Monsanto case

FRANKFURT/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Bayer BAYGn.DE has taken Russia's antitrust regulator to court over the watchdog's investigation into the company's planned takeover of Monsanto MON.N, a further hiccup in the $64 billion deal amid intense antitrust scrutiny.

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A Bayer spokesman said the German company was petitioning the court in Russia to be given more time to discuss demands made by the regulator about the deal, which would create the world’s largest seeds and pesticides company.

“The parties are in dialogue but the agreement has not been reached yet. Bayer made a decision to bring the case to court in order to safeguard its juridical rights,” Bayer said in a written statement.

Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS), which has yet to issue a ruling on the takeover, on Nov. 9 made any approval conditional on Bayer sharing plant breeding technologies in Russia and giving access to digital farming data, among other remedies. It postponed the deadline for a decision by three months at the time.

Interfax news agency on Tuesday quoted the head of FAS as saying that Bayer was ready to quit Russia to secure the deal with Monsanto, which was announced in 2016.

“They filed a lawsuit last week and said that they are ready not to do this deal on Russian territory and are in fact ready to leave from here,” Interfax quoted Igor Artemyev as saying.

The Bayer spokesman declined to comment on whether the group had threatened to quit the Russian market.

The lawsuit “is a procedural step that will not prevent the parties from the opportunity of negotiations in regard of achieving mutually beneficial agreement to support innovative development of Russia’s agricultural industry,” Bayer said in its statement.

Bayer is in intense discussions with regulators across the world and has already agreed to sell certain seed and herbicide businesses to rival BASF BASFn.DE for 5.9 billion euros ($7.3 billion).

The European Union’s review has been postponed to April 5 and sources have said Bayer offered to divest its global vegetable seeds business and allow BASF exclusive access to its digital farming data.

Russia is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, but it still relies on imported seeds. The country is keen to nurture growth in its agriculture sector while its economy is burdened by low oil prices and Western sanctions imposed for the annexation of Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

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Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Tom Sims and Susan Fenton