UK regulator to rule on Issa brothers' $9.5 bln Asda deal by April 20

LONDON, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Britain’s competition regulator has set an April 20 deadline for a preliminary decision on the Issa brothers and TDR Capital’s purchase of supermarket group Asda from Walmart.

In October, Zuber and Mohsin Issa and private equity firm TDR Capital, agreed to buy a majority stake in Asda, Britain’s third largest grocer.

In December the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an inquiry into the deal, which gave the group an enterprise value of 6.8 billion pounds ($9.5 billion).

It initially set a Feb. 18 deadline for a “Phase 1” decision but then stopped the clock of its probe while it sought additional documentation.

Its inquiry has been complicated by the Issa brothers and TDR Capital’s plan to offload Asda’s 322 petrol stations to their own petrol forecourt business EG Group for 750 million pounds when the deal is completed.

The petrol forecourts deal, under which the stations will continue to be branded Asda, will be considered by the CMA as part of its review of the Asda purchase.

At the end of the Phase 1 stage, the CMA will either clear the deal, ask the parties to offer “undertakings in lieu” or concessions to avoid a more detailed Phase 2 investigation, or refer the deal to a Phase 2 probe.

Competition lawyers expect the deal to be cleared at Phase 1 but do anticipate the combined group having to dispose of some petrol forecourts.

In 2019 Walmart’s attempt to sell Asda to rival grocer Sainsbury’s for 7.3 billion pounds was thwarted by the CMA.

Asda is due to update on fourth-quarter trading on Thursday.

$1 = 0.7175 pounds Reporting by James Davey; editing by Jason Neely