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Heineken poised to take control of United Breweries

Heineken, the world’s third largest brewer, is poised to take full control of United Breweries, India’s biggest beer company, according to news sources in India.

That prospect has been thrown up by news that a consortium of Indian banks has begun the process of repossessing the 16.5% stake in UB seized by the courts and financial authorities from fugitive former chairman Vijay Mallya.

The Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court in Mumbai has restored properties seized from Mallya by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to banks that had granted loans of up to £1.15 billion to support his Kingfisher Airlines, which spectacularly collapsed into bankruptcy in 2012.

The ED had seized assets worth £875 million from the former UB group chairman in connection with money laundering and fraud charges.

According to sources in India, the banks plan to sell the shares now returned to them in several tranches to recoup some of the loans made to Mallya.

As Mallya liquidated some of his assets prior to fleeing India in 2016, Heineken had built up a stake in UB and became the effective controller of India’s largest brewer with a stake of approximately 46%.

Mallya and his various entities held 11% but more than 98% of Mallya’s personal holding in UB had been pledged to the banks or was otherwise encumbered.

It is widely assumed that Heineken will wish to formalise its effective control of UB by buying a tranche of shares from the creditor banks to take its holding above 50%.

The court has permitted the return of the shares to the banks in case Mallya is found non-guilty of the charges against him. In that case, the banks would have to restore the properties back to Mallya.

Mallya has consistently rejected the charges against him but is on bail in the UK where he is resisting extradition to India to face them.

He has exhausted avenues through the courts but his extradition is in abeyance pending resolution of a “confidential legal matter”. That is understood to be an application for asylum in the UK.

Meanwhile, a separate case to have him declared bankrupt in the UK is moving toward a conclusion. A hearing of closing arguments has been set for later this month.

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