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Food & Beverage

Kirin bid approved by US brewer's owners despite Myanmar uproar

Human rights criticism had threatened Japanese giant's craft beer plans

Kirin has drawn criticism for its business ties with a Myanmar military conglomerate.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japanese beverage giant Kirin Holdings has won approval from employee-shareholders of U.S.-based New Belgium Brewing to acquire the independent craft brewery, Nikkei learned on Wednesday.

New Belgium's employees, who own 100% of the independent Colorado brewer, were under pressure from human rights groups to reject the deal because of Kirin's acquisition of Myanmar Brewery in 2015 and its links to Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEHL), a military conglomerate.

Kirin co-owns Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery through joint ventures with MEHL, and controls more than 80% of Myanmar's beer market. A United Nations report published in August said MEHL's revenue was funneled to the military, enabling the armed forces' brutal crackdown on the Southeast Asian country's Rohingya Muslims.

New Belgium's management, however, remained committed to the sale.

Founded in 1991, New Belgium has about 700 employees, according to Kirin. The American company is the fourth-biggest independent craft brewery in the U.S. and is best known for its Fat Tire Amber Ale.

Kirin aims to close the deal by the end of March -- pending a review by local authorities -- and expand in the thriving U.S. craft beer market.

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