February 6, 2020 / 2:02 PM / 12 days ago

AB InBev gets relief against New Delhi sales ban

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A tribunal in New Delhi has put on hold a sales ban imposed last year on Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR), an order seen by Reuters showed, allowing the world’s largest brewer to resume sales of its beer products in the city for now.

FILE PHOTO: Budweiser beer bottles are seen in a cooler at a liquor shop in Kolkata, India, September 13, 2019. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/File Photo

Authorities in New Delhi barred AB InBev in July from selling its beer products for three years over allegations related to the evasion of state taxes, which the company had denied. The ban was later reduced to 18 months.

The company’s appeal against the ban was rejected in December by a judge of the Delhi High Court, who directed AB InBev to approach the city tribunal for further relief.

The tribunal issued a one-page order on Feb. 4 saying the ban was being “stayed” as it continues to hear the company’s appeal. The order, a copy of which was seen by Reuters on Thursday, did not elaborate on the reasons.

AB InBev continues to argue against the ban saying it must be quashed as the company was not given adequate notice beforehand, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The next tribunal appeal hearing is on Feb. 25, the order said.

An official from the Delhi government said it would continue to defend its ban order.

New Delhi authorities had found that SABMiller, bought by AB InBev in 2016, used duplicate barcodes on beer bottles supplied to city retailers, allowing it to pay lower levies.

The Delhi tribunal’s stay order will come as a major relief for AB InBev, which was already battling a separate Indian antitrust probe concerning alleged beer price fixing by SABMiller and other companies.

A spokesman for AB InBev India told Reuters the company was encouraged by the stay order, but added it would not comment further during the ongoing appeal process.

“We are committed to operating with integrity and ethics and remain excited about our business in India,” he added.

AB InBev, whose beers include Budweiser and Hoegaarden, is the second biggest player in India’s $7 billion market, with a 17.5% share, IWSR Drinks Market Analysis estimates.

Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Edmund Blair

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