Pernod Ricard buys Swedish maker of Absolut vodka brand

(dpa) - French wine and spirits producer Pernod Ricard has bought the Swedish state-controlled V&S Group, maker of the well- known Absolut vodka brand, the company and the Swedish government said Monday.

Pernod Ricard said it paid 5.62 billion euros (8.87 billion dollars), including debt, for V&S Group that makes and distributes spirits and wines.

The premium Absolut vodka brand was launched on the US market in 1979, and in 2006 sold 11.2 million 9-litre cases worldwide.

The deal was inked Sunday. Other brands owned by the French wine and spirits maker include Chivas, Ballantine's, The Glenlivet, Jameson, Martell, Beefeater, Ricard, Malibu and Jacob's Creek.

Patrick Ricard, chairman and chief executive of Pernod Ricard, said in a statement that with the deal the group would become "the co-leader of the global wine and spirits industry."

Pernod Ricard said it expected the deal to be completed this summer, pending approval from regulators.

Others vying for V&S Group included Bacardi Ltd and a group that consisted of Swedish investment companies Investor AB and EQT Partners AB.

The V&S Group was one of several companies that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's centre-right government has said it would reduce state holdings in after taking office October 2006.

Local Government and Financial Markets Minister Mats Odell said it was a "very good deal" for the group and Swedish public.

V&S Group was founded in 1917 as a monopoly to make, import and export alcoholic beverages in Sweden. The group posted sales in 2006 of 10.3 billion kronor (some 1.6 billion dollars) and employed some 2,500 people.

The Swedish government has also sold stakes in Nordic and Baltic stock exchange operator OMX and telecommunications operator Telia Sonera.

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