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Widening probe of Monsanto's Indonesia practices

(Monday, March 22, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Carey Gillam, Reuters: KANSAS CITY, Mo. - U.S. authorities have widened an investigation into whether Monsanto Co. (MON.N.) engaged in improper business dealings in Indonesia, the company said on Monday.

The new issue is whether a former outside consultant to Monsanto made an improper $50,000 payment in early 2002 to an Indonesian government official at the direction of a former Monsanto employee, the company said.

Both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission were already looking into issues involving Monsanto's work in Indonesia.

"The DOJ has informed us that they are expanding their particular inquiry," said Monsanto spokeswoman Lori Fisher. "These are serious allegations and we will continue to cooperate."

She said the employee involved has left the company, but declined to provide further details.

Potential problems in Indonesia first surfaced when the St. Louis-based agrochemical company disclosed to regulators in November 2002 that an internal audit and review by management had uncovered compliance irregularities in Indonesia, where the company has been losing money the last few years.

The company is one of the world's leading developers of genetically modified seeds, but has had trouble getting some of its biotech crops approved in foreign countries, including a biotech cotton introduced in Indonesia in 2001.

Monsanto closed down the biotech cotton sales operations in 2003 after two unsuccessful years that came amid complaints over yields and pricing.

Today, the company's business in Indonesia is confined to herbicide sales and conventional corn seed sales and the country is a relatively small contributor to overall revenue.

Net combined revenue from Indonesian customers represents only about 0.8 percent of total corporate revenue of $5 billion, the company said.

Monsanto shares were down 1.6 percent at $33.69 on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday afternoon.