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Komal Chhabria `interested' in SWC's liquor biz

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Ms Komal Chhabria
Ms Komal Chhabria

Boby Kurian

Bangalore, Feb. 9

THE Jumbo Group has confirmed the interest of Ms Komal Chhabria Wazir, the second daughter of the Manu Chhabria estate, in acquiring Shaw Wallace & Co Ltd's (SWC) liquor business, and further stated that the bids received for the liquor company's sale are open to negotiation.

A senior Jumbo official confirmed that "a member of the Manu Chhabria family is interested in the business."

The 33-year-old Ms Wazir is an Executive Director who oversees the operational functions of Shaw Wallace Distilleries Ltd, the liquor arm of SWC and the second-largest domestic spirits company.

The official did not comment when asked whether the Jumbo World Holdings board has cleared the way for Ms Wazir's bid. A Jumbo Group spokesperson did not respond to queries on the matter, stating that it has never commented on the sale process.

The Dubai-based Jumbo Group, founded by the late Manu Chhabria, had mandated McKinsey Singapore to call for bids to sell off the SWC liquor business. Three bidders the UB Group, the Mr Ramesh Vangal-Newbridge combine and the UK-based Whyte & Mackay are in the fray for the SWC business, which boasts of whisky brands such as Royal Challenge, Director's Special, Antiquity and Haywards. It reported annual sales of nearly 15 million cases in 2003-04.

The Jumbo official said the bids received were open to negotiation even while confirming that UB had quoted the highest price when bids opened in mid-January. "The bids are not binding on us. It is binding on the bidder who is undertaking to pay at least the quoted value. We anticipate negotiations on the received bids as anyone can match UB's price or even quote higher than that," he added. It was reported that the UB Group, which quoted a value close to Rs 1,200 crore, had emerged as the highest bidder, closely followed by Mr Ramesh Vangal in tandem with Newbridge.

The Jumbo World Holdings board, chaired by Ms Vidya Manohar Chhabria, which met on January 15, witnessed differences of opinion in selecting the preferred bidder. It is slated to meet again within a week and is expected to send signals on what approach it would take with regard to the sale of the SWC liquor business. Jumbo has not indicated any timeframe to conclude the sale process, and it is also not clear what shape Ms Wazir's interest to keep the business will take.

Mallya writes to Vidya Chhabria

ANTICIPATING Ms Komal Chhabria Wazir's bid that could impact his chances to acquire the SWC liquor business, the UB Group Chairman, Mr Vijay Mallya, wrote to the Jumbo Group Chairperson, Ms Vidya Manohar Chhabria, and expressed his eagerness to conclude a deal as he has emerged as the highest bidder.

"Mr Mallya has expressed his eagerness to do the deal, as we are the highest bidder. UB wants to know whether it should do anything further in this regard," sources close to Mr Mallya said.

UB said any move by Ms Wazir, who is also a fiduciary person, to enter the race at this late stage would be open to different interpretations. "We would not have had any problem if she had joined the fray along with others, and not fire a bid after learning about her rivals plans," a UB official said.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 10, 2005)
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