By James Atkinson
Foster's Group chairman David Crawford faced some interesting questions from shareholders this morning, none more so than the bizarre, unsubstantiated allegation that both the brewer and its new owner were controlled by mafia interests.
But earlier, Crawford was questioned on whether he was aware that some of Foster's institutional shareholders also held shares in SABMiller. He was unconcerned, responding that the institutions would exercise their votes "in accordance with their best interests".
But the shareholder's line of questioning subsequently became more peculiar.
"Are you also aware that quite a lot of these big shareholders in Foster's as well as SABMiller are also controlled by the mafia and other criminal organisations?" he asked.
A bemused Crawford responded: "I clearly am not aware of that."
Another shareholder said it "puzzles me greatly" why Foster's could not stay in Australian hands.
"SABMiller are buying it clearly because they can see there's value in it for them," he said.
"My question is, why is it that… no alternative has been presented that they could run this company in Australia, for Australians, and given Australians' propensity and love for beer, I can't see how it wouldn't make money."
The Australian Shareholders Association's Geoff Read then told Crawford the 750 small shareholders he represents were "disappointed" at the takeover.
He said the acquisition had occurred because the company had lost up to 8 per cent market share and was still suffering from "a disastrous foray into wine at the wrong time, with the wrong exchange rate, and the wrong prices".
"Previous chairmen and board members and CEOs were responsible for that, and in our humble opinion, we've also appointed two inappropriate CEOs in recent times," he said.
"The corporate history will show that is the reason why Foster's is being sold today for $5.40 a share plus the dividend and not $6.00 or $7.00 a share on a continuing basis," he said.