The Delhi government has banned AB InBev, the Leuven-based brewer, from selling beer in the Indian capital for three years because of an accusation of tax evasion against a subsidiary.
InBev is the largest brewer in the world, but only second in India, where United Breweries – brewers of Kingfisher among others and part-owned by Carlsberg and Heineken – dominates the market. The Indian market is worth some seven billion dollars, with InBev holding a 17.5% market share.
The tax charge concerns SABMiller, the South African brewer taken over by InBev in 2016. According to the Indian government, SABMiller would attach false barcodes to its bottles of beer distributed in Delhi, whereby it became liable to pay less tax.
The investigation lasted three years, and began when inspectors found bottles on sale which, according to the track-and-trace information contained in the barcode, ought to still have been in the warehouse. Other bottles bearing the same barcode were later found, whereas every bottle should by law have its own unique barcode.
InBev is considering an appeal, claiming that the company ended its relationship with the Indian distributor when it took over SABMiller, bringing an end to the practice. The company also complains the switching of barcodes was extremely limited.
“We’re talking about an alleged mismatch in the barcode status of 12 individual bottles on sale in one shop in Delhi,” a company spokesperson said. “After we had taken control of the activities of SABMiller, we brought to an end out relations with the distributor who served the shop in question. We deny the allegations set out in this order and look forward to presenting our views in full cooperation with the excise appellate process,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to receiving a fair hearing on this matter.”