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SABMiller seeks official review of Foster’s accounts

* Claims statements by Foster's were "misleading and deceptive"
* SABMiller says net debt figures don't meet Australian standards
* Panel to review application to be established on Monday
* SABMiller trying everything it can to keep down price-analyst

Global brewer SABMiller , embroiled in a $10 billion battle to take over Foster's Group , has asked Australia's Takeovers Panel to examine financial statements made by Foster's that it claims are "misleading and deceptive."

SABMiller has made a A$4.90 per share hostile bid for Foster's, Australia's largest brewer, which Foster's board rejected as being too low to be "worth discussing."

Foster's released a statement from the takeover watchdog to the stock exchange on Friday, which said SABMiller had asked the panel to force Foster's to clarify information released in its financial statements.

Analysts said while it was not uncommon for a takeover predator to take issue with comments that a target company makes in relation to the bid, it was more unusual for a suitor to attack its target's accounting methods and profit statements.

"My impression is that they are trying to do everything they can to make sure they don't have to increase their offer price," said Daniel Nelson, an analyst at Constellation Capital Management.

Foster's, the maker of Victoria Bitter, Carlton Draught and Pure Blonde, reported a 9 percent slide in second-half profit on Aug. 23, a rare decline with beer margins falling for the first time in a decade and volumes declining.

In a statement, the Takeovers Panel said SABMiller claimed that Foster's had made "misleading and deceptive" statements in its profit announcement last month.

SABMiller argued there was "no reasonable basis" for several forward-looking statements made in Foster's results presentation, according to the Takeovers Panel.

SABMiller also claimed that the net debt figures published by Foster's did not meet Australian accounting standards.

George Durbridge, acting counsel on the Takeovers Panel, said the body would assemble a panel of experts on Monday to review the application by SABMiller.

If the panel decides to review the merits of SABMiller's claims, a final decision on the case could come within two weeks, he told Reuters.

A spokesman for Foster's said the brewer could make no comments on the claims by SABMiller because the matter was before the Takeovers Panel.

SABMiller, the world's second-largest brewer, took its offer directly to shareholders last month after the Foster's board rejected its initial approach. Shareholders are hoping for an offer above A$5 a share.

SABMiller, which makes Peroni, Grolsch and Miller Lite, has long been seen as the favourite to take over Foster's given the lack of potential rivals and the London-based brewer's desire to have a range of global businesses.

Shares in Foster's ended flat at A$4.86 on Friday, below the A$4.90 offer from SABMiller, but outperforming a broader market down 1.5 percent.

2 Sep. 2011

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