India. Keeping a watch on Mallya crisis: Heineken

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Dutch beer giant Heineken said it was “following developments” its Indian partner Vijay Mallya is embroiled in but will not comment right now. Speculation has been gaining ground that Heineken might hasten the move to take full control of United Breweries, makers of Kingfisher beer, of which Mallya remains chairman.

Heineken owns 42% while Mallya holds 32.8% in UBL. But mostof Mallya’s shares in the company are pledged to banks and some offered as security to Diageo as part of loan guarantees extended to F-1 team Force India. The foreign partner has been mopping up pledged shares offloaded by the lenders in the past. As banks take aggressive steps to recover unserviced loans of Kingfisher Airlines, more shares owned by Mallya may come into the market, giving Heineken a chance to hike its shareholding.

“We have been following developments in the Indian press recently. But we would not comment at this stage,” a Heineken spokesperson said over the phone from Amsterdam while responding to TOI’s queries regarding the latest development. Unlike in the case of Diageo, Mallya has had stable ties with the family-run Heineken, whichhasbeen a patient partner till date.

But Mallya’songoing personalcrisis may havedashed allhishopesof negotiating a sale to Heineken at a premium, sources said. “Any settlement with the banks will involve his UBL shares and the current scenario does not provide Mallya much room to negotiate,” an industry sourcesaid. Mallya’sholdings in the company is worth around Rs 7,000 crore at current market value.

Heineken entered UBL through an acquisition of Scottish & Newcastle (S&N), the original foreign partner of Mallya. In fact, S&N representatives on UBL board had expressed concerns about Mallya’s decision to use Kingfisher brand for the civil aviation foray a decade ago.