Independent Liquor sellers plan to file suit against Asahi over price stoush

Buyout firms Pacific Equity Partners and Unitas Capital plan to retaliate against Asahi's suit over Independent Liquor's $1.5 billion price tag with their own proceedings, this time in New Zealand.

The Japanese drinks giant filed an originating document in the Federal Court of Australia in Melbourne today, alleging PEP and Unitas misled it over Independent Liquor's earnings and causing it to overpay.

The private equity firms deny the allegations, saying they are "completely untrue and unfounded" and that Asahi has breached the terms of the sale.

"The sellers intend instituting legal proceedings and seeking damages in the New Zealand courts," the companies say in an emailed statement.

The Japanese company claims Independent Liquor's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation were "significantly" inflated during the due diligence and sale process, and that they were provided with "false and misleading financial information" during that time.

"We conducted due diligence thoroughly and in good faith and relied on the figures provided to us," Atsushi Katsuki, managing director of Asahi Holdings (Australia), says. "We are seeking maximum recovery of our loss and we have commenced legal proceedings for this purpose."

Asahi bought Independent Liquor, trading as Flavoured Beverages Group Holdings, in 2011 when it was on a spending spree having built up a $US4.9 billion war chest.

Around the same time as the Independent Liquor acquisition, it bought Australia's P&N Beverages and Malaysia's PepsiCo bottler Permanis Sdn, having purchased Schweppes Australia and New Zealand's Charlie's Group in the two years prior.

The Japanese company has filed proceedings against Pacific Equity Partners, Unitas Capital, certain funds controlled by the two firms, management services companies for the firms, and certain directors of both private equity companies.

Asahi filed the papers after "in-depth investigations" after the acquisitions and is seeking damages from losses suffered as a result of the private equity firms' conduct, the Japanese company says.


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