Tesco and Sainsbury may be potential buyers for assets of Dutch retailer Ahold after “significant accounting irregularities” were uncovered and chief executive officer Cees van der Hoeven and chief financial officer Michael Meurs resigned.

Ahold announced the irregularities were discovered in “the recognition of income including prepayment amounts related to US Foodservice’s promotional allowance programmes”, which it believed may exceed $500m.

It further announced that the CEO and three other directors of its Argentina subsidiary Disco had resigned after an investigation by forensic accountants.

Both van der Hoeven and Meurs will stay on with Ahold for the transition of affairs but chairman Henny de Ruiter has taken on responsibility for the day-to-day business.

The crisis is the culmination of a massive decline in fortunes since last summer when Ahold appeared set to overtake Carrefour as the world’s no 2 grocer. It has since delivered two profit warnings, and reported its first quarterly loss since 1973.

Ahold has an estimated debt of over 112bn and there is speculation its bankers, which have just given Ahold a 12.65bn credit facility, may now force it to sell off some of its core assets to reduce its debt burden.

Mintel’s senior European retail analyst Richard Perks said: “The likes of Tesco and Sainsbury could try and cherrypick Ahold’s assets but it is more likely to happen with Ahold’s foodservice than its food retail companies.”

Ahold has 1,600 US retail stores along the eastern coast under the Stop & Shop, Giant, Tops, Bi-Lo, and Bruno’s fascias. Sainsbury could be tempted to add one of these to its portfolio of Shaw’s Supermarkets and Star Markets in New England and Massachusetts.

Ahold also has stores in Thailand, Malaysia and Poland where Tesco has interests. But even before the latest crisis Schroder Salomon Smith Barney said Tesco would not be interested in buying Ahold’s Thai or Malaysian supermarkets as there were still plenty of available sites for supermarkets in Thailand, and its growth strategy in Malaysia was focused on hypermarkets.

In Poland, where Tesco owns hypermarket chain HIT, SSSB believed it did not “feel the need to bulk up any further”.

However reports have linked Tesco, Sainsbury and Wal-Mart to Ahold’s 623 Spanish and 200 Portuguese stores. SSSB said “selling Spain would be a psychological blow for Ahold but in these difficult times there can be no sacred cows”.