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EXCLUSIVE-PwC affiliate quits as Carlsberg India auditor, avoids opinion for 2nd year

* Carlsberg in dispute with India JV partner

* Divergent views among Carlsberg India board persist

NEW DELHI, Nov 7 (Reuters) - PwC’s India affiliate has resigned as the auditor of Carlsberg India Pvt Ltd, declining for a second year in a row to give an opinion on its financial results, the brewer and two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Denmark’s Carlsberg A/S has been locked in a commercial dispute with its joint venture partner in India, Nepal-based Khetan Group, amid an internal probe into the brewer’s local practices that sparked a boardroom battle and concerns from its auditor.

“As far as we are informed, the divergent views among the Carlsberg India Board of Directors is the primary reason for the disclaimer of opinion made by the auditor, which will be included in the 2019/20 accounts,” said Steve Deng, corporate affairs director for Carlsberg Asia.

He told Reuters by email the auditor decided to resign.

PwC’s India affiliate did not offer an opinion on Carlberg India’s 2018-19 results, citing disagreement among some board members and compliance concerns, including a review of complaints around the promotion of beer in prohibited areas.

Its decision to do the same for the business year through March and to resign was discussed at a Carlsberg India board meeting this month, the sources told Reuters.

“The auditor’s view is that if it cannot give an opinion for two consecutive years, then it has to quit,” said one source, asking not to be named as the decision is not public.

PwC declined comment. C.P. Khetan, who manages the India Carlsberg partnership for the JV partner, did not respond to requests for comment.

The latest results, like last year’s, have not been approved by the board’s three Khetan representatives but have been signed off by the seven nominated by Carlsberg, the sources said.

Khetan’s representative directors had asked the Indian government to investigate what they said was Carlsberg’s non-compliance with laws on trade discounts, advertisement and sales promotion, according to the brewer’s India 2018-19 disclosures.

For last year’s results, Price Waterhouse Chartered Accountants LLP, the local affiliate, said it chose not to give an opinion due to “divergent views” among board members, ongoing forensic reviews and the possible impact these could have on legal compliance.

Carlsberg’s Deng said official complaints that the JV partner made to India’s registrar of companies in August 2019 and February 2020 have been closed.

The dispute comes as Carlsberg faces scrutiny by India’s antitrust authority, which has concluded the brewerer colluded with other companies to fix beer prices. A final ruling in that matter is pending. (Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by William Mallard)

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