The chairman of Philippines food and drinks group San Miguel Corp. (SMC), Eduardo Cojuangco has won a two-decade court battle with the government over a disputed share of the company.

The Asian food and drinks conglomerate said yesterday (27 November) that Eduardo Cojuangco has been awarded the 17.4% stake, equal to US$600m worth of stock, allowing him to sell his shares.

The dispute over ownership of San Miguel, the largest food and drinks group in the Philippines, goes back to 1987 when the government, through the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), took control of Cojuangco's shares and those of groups he represents, alleging that they had been bought using funds designated for the development of the coconut industry. The disputed stakes represent nearly half of the equity in SMC.

The government has said it wants to sell a block of SMC shares the court awarded it next year after a final ruling on the ownership of the stake. Coconut farmers claiming rights to those shares have filed an appeal.

In its final decision yesterday, the anti-graft court said that the government had failed to prove allegations that Cojuangco used coconut levy funds to buy his shares in SMC, as well as a possible misuse of United Coconut Planters Bank funds. At the time Cojuangco took the loans, he was UCPB president.

Earlier this year, San Miguel announced plans to restructure its core businesses in the Philippines with the recent spin-off of its domestic beer operations.