U.S. watchdog sues Japan's Seven & i over store acquisition in U.S.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Monday sued Japanese firm Seven & i Holdings Co. and its American subsidiary, alleging that the convenience store operator violated an order not to increase stores in certain areas in the United States without prior notice.

The FTC is seeking a maximum penalty of over $77 million against 7-Eleven Inc. in connection with an acquisition of a fuel outlet in Florida, which it criticized as "anticompetitive" and likely allowed the company to charge higher fuel prices at nearby locations.

7-Eleven had agreed to the FTC's consent order on store acquisition issued in 2018, after fears emerged that competition for retail gas and diesel fuel in certain local markets could be harmed due to Seven & i's plan to acquire 1,000 retail fuel stations with convenience stores attached from U.S. fuel distributor Sunoco LP.

The order was "designed to protect consumers from anticompetitive acquisitions, which could lead to higher retail fuel prices, among other consumer harms," but it was violated, the FTC said in its complaint.

"7-Eleven's acquisition of the St. Petersburg outlet was an undisputed violation of the 2018 consent order since this location was specifically listed as an outlet that could not be acquired without first providing prior notice to the FTC," it said in a press release.

7-Eleven eventually sold the outlet, but the FTC said the act "does not moot" the company's violation of the consent order.

Seven & i said in a statement Tuesday that it voluntarily reported to the FTC after the incident came to light. It also called for a prompt and fair settlement of the issue.

© Kyodo News