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SOUTH AFRICA: Seagram and Bulmer try to reverse Distell merger

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The Competition Tribunal has reserved judgement while it weighs up all the evidence put before it in the attempt by Seagram Africa and Bulmer SA to try and turn around the merger between Distillers' Corporation and Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery.

Another group of players were allowed to enter the fray, namely the National Union of Food, Beverage and Allied Workers' Union, which was petitioning on behalf of employees, warning of major job losses.

Distell, the newly formed giant resulting from the merger re-launched in Stellenbosch last Monday and officially changed its name at the same time on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange's Security Exchange.

Seagram, Bulmer and the trade union contend that the merger was "notifiable" in terms of the Competitions Act and would thus be open to investigation by the competition authorities.

Distell contends that both companies in the merger were owned by the same stakeholders, namely KWV, Rembrandt and South African Breweries, each of which had a 30% share in both SFW and Distillers'.

They maintained that there was continuity of control by the majority shareholders and had already received a non-binding advisory from the Competition Commission, which on two occasions found in favour of Distell.

Distell maintained that the realignment of the shareholding structure could not be considered as a merger under present legislation.

Corporate affairs director, Andre Steyn, says the initial figure bandied by the trade unions of about 1,800 job losses was totally over the top. So far about 300 early retirements have been taken and more than 200 people who left the two companies employ over the past few months have not been filled.

A Competition Tribunal spokesman said he expected the judgement in the hearing to be known in about two weeks time.


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