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Battle of control stirs bitter brew for Barista Coffee

Feb 10: Who owns Barista, the country’s fastest-growing speciality coffee chain with a turnover of over Rs 24 crore' The question of control is at the centre of a raging storm sparked by recent reports that Amit Judge and his men, who run Barista Coffee Company Ltd (BCCL), are trying to sell the latte maker to Tata Coffee.

Eighteen months ago, Tata Coffee bought into Barista by snapping up a 34.5 per cent stake in the coffee chain as part of a Rs 26-crore deal. Now, Judge is reportedly keen to sell his remaining stake in the company.

On Monday, Turner Morison & Company Ltd (TMC) held a press conference in Calcutta and declared Amit Judge, chairman of the board, persona non grata.

The company officials said they had written to Tata Coffee warning them not to hold any talks with Judge and his cohorts over the acquisition of fresh shares in Barista since he had no locus standi in the company.

Citing a Supreme Court order issued in December, Turner Morison’s newly-appointed executive director Amitava Sarkar said the board led by Amit Judge had been declared as “interlopers with no locus standi” in the affairs of the company.

In Delhi, Sandeep Vyas, Barista Coffee’s marketing vice-president, riposted that Turner Morison did not own a single share in the coffee chain.

Vyas maintained that Tata Coffee has a 34.29 per cent stake in BCCL while 8 per cent belongs to the workers under an Employees Stock Options Programme (ESOP).

“Amit Judge is the chairman of BCCL. Judge, along with a host of companies associated with him, hold 67.09 per cent of the stake,” said Vyas. Other individuals hold 1.62 per cent, he added.

In its letter to Bangalore-headquartered Tata Coffee, Turner Morison wrote: “The Tatas have always striven to abide by the laws of the land. It is our earnest request that they should not get involved with a deal mired in fraud.”

“You are informed and reminded that TMC holds 57.7 per cent equity shares of Barista and the controlling stake of TMC is with Hungerford Investment Trust Ltd (HIT),” said the letter to the Tatas.

Barista is an unlisted company and the difference in the shareholding figures put out by the two groups is indicative of the lack of information and how deep this feud runs.

Citing the Supreme Court judgement, the letter to the Tatas says, “The board of TMC led by one Amit Judge was declared to be non-est and, therefore, has ceased to exist and function… However, the non-est board is indulging in illegal activities by initiating the sale/transfer/merger of Barista with your company.”

The Tatas were not available for comment on the dispute that seems to be frothier than the cappucinos that Barista serves up.

While denying that there was “any move to sell its stake in Barista,” Sarkar said the Supreme Court had appointed Justice G.N. Ray (Retd) as the chairman of the board of directors of Turner Morison.

In Delhi, Vyas said, “Amitava Sarkar has no locus standi to hold such a press meet. He has no authority to do this. Our company does not have any relationship with him whatsoever.”

The board of BCCL is headed by Amit Judge and some of its other members include Tariq Ansari, Ranbaxy MD D.S. Brar, Tata Coffee chairman R.K. Krishna Kumar, Tata Tea MD Homi Khusrau Khan, and Barista MD Ravi Deol.

Asked about the statement from Turner Morison that the board of chairman led by Judge has been declared void by the Supreme Court (and that Turner Morison & Co Ltd would now function under Justice G.N. Ray), Vyas said, “To the best of my knowledge, the matter relating to Turner Morison is sub judice and, hence, it is inappropriate on our part to comment.”

Vyas said the companies associated with Judge that held a stake in Barista included Sarvamangal Trading, SKG Fiscal and Akarsh Printers.

“At present, there is no move to sell any of our shares to Tata Coffee Limited; that is to say that there is no move to change any of our existing stake patterns as of now,” said Vyas. “As a company, we do not respond to speculations or rumours in the market.”

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