Asahi suing PEP and Unitas over Independent Liquor purchase

SYDNEY Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:30pm EST

SYDNEY Feb 14 (Reuters) - Japanese brewer Asahi Group Holdings Ltd is suing Pacific Equity Partners and Unitas Capital Pte Ltd, alleging they inflated the earnings of the Independent Liquor business it acquired in 2011 for NZ$1.5 billion ($1.3 billion).

Individual directors and investment funds controlled by the two private equity firms are also targeted by the legal action filed by Asahi Holdings Australia and Independent Liquor New Zealand, both Japanese registered subsidiaries of Asahi Group, in Australia's Federal Court.

Asahi, the maker of Japan's top-selling "Super Dry" beer, is seeking unspecified damages for losses after an internal investigation uncovered what the company claims was misleading and deceptive conduct.

Asahi bought Flavoured Beverage Group Holdings Ltd, the parent company of Independent Liquor, from PEP and Unitas at a time Japanese brewers were on a spending spree across Asia and Oceania.

The acquisition of Independent Liquor, known for its "Woodstock Bourbon" and "Vodka Cruiser" brands, was part of Asahi's bid to boost revenue growth amid a shrinking home beer market.

"It is very disappointing that PEP and Unitas have engaged in this misconduct," Asahi Holdings Australia Managing Director Atsushi Katsuki said in an emailed statement.

"We conducted due diligence thoroughly and in good faith and relied on the figures provided to us," he added. "We are seeking maximum recovery of our loss and we have commenced legal proceedings for this purpose."

PEP, Australia's largest buyout firm, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Unitas could not immediately be reached.

($1 = 1.1885 New Zealand dollars) (Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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