BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU antitrust regulators will investigate whether brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR) is illegally blocking cheaper imports of its own beer into the Belgian market, the European Commission said on Thursday.
The probe underlines the competition authority's crackdown against companies seeking to prevent "parallel trade", in which cheaper products in one country are transported for sale in another.
"AB InBev may be pursuing a deliberate strategy to restrict so-called 'parallel trade' of its beer from less expensive countries, such as the Netherlands and France, to the more expensive Belgian market," the Commission said in a statement.
It said the investigation would focus on whether the brewer changes the packaging of beer cans or bottles to make it harder to sell them in other countries and whether it restricts non-Belgian retailers' access to rebates to prevent them from importing cheaper beer to Belgium.
AB InBev faces the risk of a fine up to 10 percent of its global turnover if found guilty of breaching EU antitrust rules.
AB InBev confirmed the investigation and said it was cooperating with the Commission, adding that it would not be appropriate to comment on the investigation's substance or potential consequences.
Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Philip Blenkinsop