Bottles of beer made by Mexico-based Grupo Modelo. (Susana Gonzalez / Bloomberg )
The Justice Department has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch InBev, the maker of Budweiser, to block its acquisition of Grupo Modelo, maker of Corona, officials announced Thursday.
The department said the proposed $20.1-billion merger of the world's largest and third-largest beer makers would lead to an increase in retail prices to consumers.
Anheuser-Busch InBev, based in Belgium, had a 50% non-controlling stake in Mexico-based Grupo Modelo before offering to buy the rest of the company last year.
The Justice Department said AB InBev and Grupo Modelo account for 46% of beer sales in the U.S.
"We took this action today because we believe the acquisition is a bad deal for American consumers,” Bill Baer, assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division, said in a conference call.
"It would lessen competition for beer ... resulting in consumers at risk paying more for beers and having fewer new products to choose from. It would concentrate the beer industry further," Baer said.
Justice Department investigators said in the complaint that AB InBev had previously sought to compete with Grupo Modelo's popular Corona brand beer by launching Bud Light Lime.
AB InBev "went as far as to mimic Corona's distinctive clear bottle," the complaint said. "Ultimately, instead of trying to compete head-to-head with its own product, Bud Light Lime, [AB InBev] is thwarting competition by buying Modelo."
The Belgian firm said in a statement that it planned to contest the lawsuit and that it no longer expects the deal to close during the first quarter of 2013.
The lawsuit was filed despite an offer by AB InBev to sell its 50% stake in Crown Imports, which along with Constellation imports and markets Modelo beers in the U.S.
Wal-Mart limits ammunition sales as demand soars
Love isn't priceless -- it costs $134 a person on Valentine's Day
UPS earnings fall shy of analysts' expectations; weak '13 forecast
Follow Ricardo Lopez on Twitter.