In September 2021, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) found three beer companies AB InBev India Ltd, United Breweries Limited (UBL) and Carlsberg India Private Limited (CIPL) to be indulging in cartelization of beer in the country and imposed large penalties.
The cartel was active at least from 2009 to 2018, partly organized through the All India Brewers’ Association.
Respectively UBL and CIPL were ordered to pay penalties of Rs 750 crores and Rs 120 crores. AB InBev was given 100% benefit of reduction in a penalty (for cooperating with the investigation) under the provisions of Sections 46 of the Competition Act 2002.
The Commission based its decision on evidence acquired about communication between parties via official emails, personal emails, SMS texts, WhatsApp messages, and other means. The investigation found that 15-20 executives from the three brewers were involved in discussions of beer prices before they were submitted to Indian state regulators, thereby violating antitrust laws.
Apart from price coordination and limiting or restricting beer supply in various states or union territories, CCI discovered that UBL and SABMiller were in agreement on the purchase of second-hand bottles.
Further, it was discovered that UBL and SABMiller conspired to establish discounts and retain their respective market shares for the sale and supply of beer to Bengaluru’s exclusive institutions.
Not limited to the penalty for companies, four individuals of UBL, four individuals of AB InBev, six individuals of CIPL and the Director-General of AIBA were held by CCI to be liable for the anti-competitive conduct of their executive roles.