PHILADELPHIA Anheuser-Busch Cos Inc on Monday raised the political and emotional stakes in its fight against an unwanted $46.3 billion takeover bid by highlighting its foreign suitor's ties to Cuba.
Belgium-based InBev NV wants to buy Anheuser-Busch to create the world's largest beer brewer, but its overtures have been rejected repeatedly by the St. Louis-based brewer of Budweiser. InBev on Monday moved ahead with plans to try to replace Anheuser-Busch's board with its own nominees.
In rejecting InBev's offer as too low and uncertain, Anheuser-Busch on Monday also called attention to InBev's operations in Cuba.
InBev, through a subsidiary, has a partnership with the government of Cuba to produce and distribute products in Cuba, Anheuser-Busch said.
"InBev has not commented on how that would impact business with Anheuser-Busch's customers, nor on its ability to complete an acquisition under U.S. laws that affect acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreign companies," Anheuser-Busch said.
U.S. companies are barred from doing business with Cuba under most circumstances.
"It's actually a brilliant but desperate move," said Anthony Sabino, Professor of Law and Business at St. John's University in New York.
"This won't win Anheuser-Busch's case in defending against the deal, but it's another obstacle to toss out there for InBev to jump over and keep InBev distracted."
InBev could likely divest or close its Cuban operations to resolve any potential conflicts, Columbia University Law School Professor John Coffee said.
"When people are on the defensive, they are clutching at straws," Coffee said.
InBev said its Cuban business does not violate U.S., EU or international law, and it would continue to comply with those laws if it were to successfully acquire Anheuser-Busch. All aspects of its Cuban business are handled in Europe, InBev said.
"Like many multinational companies, InBev has modest activities that relate to Cuba," InBev said. "The affected volumes (of beer sold) constitute less than 1/2 of 1 percent of InBev's global volumes."
"SCRAPPING THE BOTTOM OF THE KEG"
"Anheuser-Busch is scrapping the bottom of the keg with this claim," said Todd Malan, president and chief executive of the Organization for International Investment, a lobbying group that represents U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies.
Malan said such concerns have not been a barrier to any other cross-border acquisition of an American company when the European parent may have assets or operations in Cuba.
InBev's bid for Anheuser-Busch already has drawn political criticism.
Some U.S. lawmakers, including both senators from Missouri, where Anheuser-Busch is based, have expressed objections to the deal, arguing it could lead to job losses there.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama weighed in on Monday, saying it would be a "a shame" if the iconic American brewer was acquired by a foreign company.
"I don't think we can pass a law to prevent Budweiser's shareholders -- Anheuser Busch's shareholders -- from selling their company. That's part of the free market system," Obama said.
"I do think it would be a shame if Bud is foreign owned. I think we should be able to find an American company that is interested in purchasing Anheuser Busch if in fact Anheuser Busch feels that it's necessary to sell."
The U.S. Treasury Department reviews mergers that involve assets connected to national security, such as telecommunications infrastructure, technology, or ports. But beer?
"I don't think beer is a national security issue," said Sabino of St. John's University.
(Editing by Phil Berlowitz)
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