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EU launches in-depth inquiry into Belgian aid to Duferco

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission said on Wednesday it had launched an in-depth investigation to determine the legality of aid totalling 517 million euros ($698.1 million) granted by a Belgian region to steel group Duferco.

The aid came from Foreign Strategic Investments Holding (FSIH), a vehicle set up by the Belgian region of Wallonia in 2003 to invest in companies belonging to the Duferco group.

FSIH deployed a series of measures, including equity participation, capital injections and loans, in support of Swiss-based Duferco, at a cost of 517 million euros, the Commission said in a statement.

"At this stage, the Commission plans to verify whether these investments, which were not notified to it in advance, were made in conformity with prevailing market conditions," the Commission, which is the executive arm of the EU, said.

If the aid is deemed illegal, the Commission could order Wallonia to recover the money.

($1 = 0.7406 euros)

(Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop)