AB InBev Probed by EU for Thwarting Beer Imports to Belgium

  • Investigation could lead to fines if EU suspicions confirmed
  • Probe follows EU order for company to repay illegal tax breaks

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV faces a European Union antitrust investigation into practices that may prevent cheaper Dutch and French beer being sold in its home market of Belgium.

The European Commission will probe whether changing beer packaging or limiting rebates for non-Belgian retailers hinders imports to Belgium, according to an e-mailed statement. The EU regulator’s “preliminary view is that AB InBev may be pursuing a deliberate strategy to restrict so-called parallel trade of its beer."

The commission last month approved AB InBev’s $104 billion bid to buy beer rival SABMiller Plc after the companies agreed to sell almost all of SABMiller’s business in Europe to allay concerns it could control the region’s beer market. Today’s antitrust probe could pave the way to fines or an order to change business practices.

AB InBev is "fully cooperating with the European Commission," said spokesman Korneel Warlop. He refused to comment on the substance of potential consequences of the probe.

The brewer of Budweiser, which has a 53 percent share of Belgium’s beer market, was previously probed by the EU for colluding to fix prices in the Netherlands. It escaped fines in 2007 because it was the first to tell the commission about the cartel.

AB InBev is still seeking approval from global regulators for the SABMiller deal. In the U.S., which is yet to approve the transaction, AB InBev has come under fire from state representatives and smaller craft brewers for alleged attempts at curbing competition by incentivizing or acquiring distributors.

EU regulators separately ordered Belgium to claim back tax from the company earlier this year after ruling illegal a tax break offered to multinationals operating in the country.

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