INDIA – Pernod Ricard’s India and South Asia Managing Director Thibault Cuny has stepped down from his position due to health reasons, the French spirits and wine major said.

After leading Pernod Ricard Brazil as president and CEO, Cuny assumed the roles of managing director and CEO of Pernod Ricard South Asia in 2019.

For almost 20 years, he has served in numerous leadership capacities with the group. His departure occurs at a pivotal time for Pernod’s Indian Division, which produces well-known brands including Chivas Regal and Absolut vodka.

Philippe Guettat, chairman and chief executive of Pernod Ricard Asia, will hold the charge of Pernod Ricard South Asia, including India operations, in the interim till a successor for Cuny is found, the company said in a statement.

Pernod Ricard said it has begun the process to identify a new head for Pernod Ricard India, and that a formal announcement regarding the appointment will be made in due course.

The press release from Pernod Ricard India said “Cuny has been dealing with health concerns over the past couple of years and his decision to take a break from his professional duties is based on medical advice. He will continue to be employed at Pernod Ricard.”

The business, which is involved in several taxes and legal disputes with the Indian Authorities, is India’s second-largest spirits player and competes with Diageo, among others.

Pernod Ricard has asked an Indian court hearing the case of it being alleged tax evasion, to strike down a government order to pay €251 million (US$245.58m) for allegedly undervaluing some of its imports for a decade in a bid to avoid India’s stiff duties on imported spirits.

Indian authorities inspected import bills for 2009-10 to 2020-21, and found Pernod Ricard India had undervalued liquor concentrates in its declarations, said the notice, which resulted in lower import duty payments.

The customs authorities also cited other violations by Pernod India, which accounts for more than 17 percent of India’s alcohol market.

The latest dispute involving Pernod is the second since 2018 when another Indian agency, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, accused Pernod of evading €76.5 million in taxes in a separate case.

The demand, according to the French liquor giant, is nearly double its net profit in India, which last year stood at €134.4 million (US$131.50m).

Pernod Ricard argues that the local liquor market was worth nearly €50 billion in 2020, but the steep prices of foreign brands – pushed up by taxes that can vary from state to state – have kept down their sales.

High taxes have riled many overseas investors who set up bases in India in the hope of tapping a potentially lucrative market.

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