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Mastercard's Scandinavian e-pay deal in EU antitrust crosshairs

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU antitrust regulators on Monday said Mastercard Inc's MA.N plan to buy part of Scandinavian payments group Nets is a significant threat to competition in Europe based on information from six countries including Britain.

The U.S. payments group disagreed with the EU’s assessment and said it hoped to finalise the deal by the end of the second quarter.

Mastercard announced plans in August last year to buy three divisions of European rival Nets, covering corporate clearing, instant payments and e-billing.

The bid for Scandinavia’s largest payments processor is part of a wave of consolidation in the sector as credit card companies and banks look to capitalise on a growing market triggered by the switch from cash to mobile payments.

The European Commission, which acts as the EU’s antitrust enforcer, said it had accepted a request from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Britain to take over the case.

Based on the information provided by the six national competition agencies, it said the deal “threatens to significantly affect competition” in the Nordic area, the European Economic Area and in Britain.

Mastercard will now have to gain EU approval for the transaction, the Commission said in a statement.

Mastercard said it disagreed with the assessment that the deal could have an adverse impact in the United Kingdom or any EU country.

“We have been working with the European Commission in order to expedite this process,” Mastercard said in a statement.

“We hope to be in a position to complete the acquisition before the end of the second quarter of 2020.”

The EU antitrust watchdog’s preliminary review of mergers takes 25 working days, which can be extended to about four months if there are serious concerns.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by David Goodman

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