January 9, 2018 / 12:22 PM / 3 months ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 2-Russia awarded rights to Stolichnaya vodka brand in Benelux

(Corrects Jan. 10 story to remove purchase price, clarify ruling overturned ban on SPI using the term “Russian”, and to show earnings figures were for Spirits International worldwide, paragraphs 10,12,13)

By Toby Sterling

AMSTERDAM, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Russia’s state-owned Sojuzplodoimport won a Dutch appeals court ruling on Tuesday giving it the rights to the Stolichnaya vodka brand in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (Benelux) and stripping them from SPI Group’s Spirits International.

The decision, which upholds a lower court ruling, is a setback for SPI Group, which faces similar challenges over the brand in other markets, including 13 European Union countries.

Tuesday’s ruling went further than a 2015 lower court decision, which had allowed SPI to continue using the nickname “Stoli.” Tuesday’s decision said that name too belonged to the Russian company.

Spirits International will have to repay all the profit it has made from sales of the Stolichnaya, Moskovskaya and Na Zdorovye brands in the Benelux region since 1999.

SPI Group said it was disappointed by the decision and would seek to challenge it in other venues.

“SPI will continue to pursue all available legal remedies in the Netherlands, including the appeal of this decision, to the Dutch Supreme Court,” the company said in a reaction.

It said legal action in the United States and Australia were on hold pending better documentation from Sojuzplodoimport, and that SPI Group had won a similar suit in Brazil.

However, Sojuzplodoimport said the decision marked a turning point in fights over the brand.

“After 15 years of litigation it is now certain that this Russian cultural heritage will remain with whom it belongs: Russia,” said Sojuzplodoimport lawyer Joris van Manen.

SPI Group is controlled by Russian tycoon Yuri Shefler.

Shefler, whose net worth is estimated at more than $2 billion by Forbes Magazine, left Russia in 2001 after the country’s Supreme Court stripped him of rights to the brand within the Russian Federation.

Tuesday’s ruling overturned a 2012 court ruling banning SPI from using the term “Russian” to describe its spirits. They are now made in Latvia.

Documents in the Dutch Chamber of Commerce showed SPI subsidiary Spirits International had net profit of more than 100 million euros ($110 million) in 2011 and 2012. (Reporting by Toby Sterling; editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter)

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