Danish newspaper Berlingske has repeatedly given column space to very unbalanced coverage of Carlsberg's announcements related to the divestment of our Russian business. Criticism is always welcome, and people are free to disagree with the decisions Carlsberg makes. However, it is not acceptable to deliberately ignore the facts, distort the truth and fail to disclose important points that could help to clarify the debate.
Unfortunately, we have found over the past year that our responses to the newspaper are rarely reflected in Berlingske’s articles other than as very brief snippets. We saw this most recently in the newspaper's articles published on 8 and 9 February, with headlines such as "Carlsberg's swerve on exit from Russia meets harsh criticism".
In these articles, the newspaper accuses Carlsberg of not having been transparent in its statements on Russia. In our opinion, Berlingske’s failure to cover all the facts does not mean that we have not been transparent. We would therefore like to shed some light on what Carlsberg has said and done.
In today’s article, Berlingske claims that we have not been transparent about our decision to continue selling our international brands in Russia after we decided to stop the production and sale of Carlsberg beer in the country. That is, despite the fact that this was widely covered in up to a hundred media outlets, even by Berlingske itself on 10 March, 2022.
On 7 December 2022, Berlingske published exactly the same story, accusing Carlsberg of having kept this information secret and of doing the opposite of what we had previously communicated. At the same time, the newspaper now calls the story a "revelation".
Our decision is, of course, open to opposition. But to claim that we have not been transparent about our actions is downright untrue. And there is a clear reason why Carlsberg made that decision. If our international brands are not part of the deal, we cannot sell the business, and then we cannot live up to our commitment to leave Russia. The risk of the whole process is also that the moment the Russian authorities see that a business is being stripped of value by its owner, they may find themselves nationalising the business to ensure the workforce is kept at the same level.
Everyone will lose from that. It will not be Carlsberg, however, which neither produces nor sells the beers after the sale. Nor will we receive any form of ongoing profit on the individual brands that become part of the deal after the sale is complete.
Second, Berlingske claims that we have not been transparent about the fact that there will be no profits from the Russian deal to donate to relief organisations. The decision to donate profits was made and announced on 9 March 2022 before Carlsberg decided to leave Russia. Prior to that, we had announced on 3 March that we were donating DKK 75 million to relief work together with the Carlsberg Foundation and the Tuborg Foundation - money that has been paid out.
We made and announced a decision to leave Russia on 28 March 2022. On April 21, we sent out a stock exchange announcement, writing down the Russian business by DKK 9.5 billion.
The decision to leave Russia has therefore turned an expected profit into a very large loss. That is why the annual report we presented on Tuesday February 7 showed a negative figure for Russia. When the operating result was deducted from the write-down, the figure ended up at minus DKK 8 billion.
Can we look back today and regret the fact that we promised an extra donation to relief organisations? Yes, of course. But as some people may recall, the situation evolved dramatically from day to day back in March. When we made the decision to donate, we obviously didn't sit around wondering if we could avoid paying that money.
That would be a blatant self-serving act and in direct contradiction to the values and principles that guide us in how we run our business and have done so for 175 years. Knowing this, we even openly announced in Jyllandsposten on 18 August that there would be no profit to donate - several months before Berlingske thought they were "revealing" the same thing.
We hope the terrible war in Ukraine ends as soon as possible. In the meantime, we continue to support our 1300 colleagues in Ukraine and the Ukrainian people with a wide range of actions.
Thirdly, Berlingske criticises us for a "devious course" when we have openly indicated several times that a buy-back clause could be part of the negotiations, because we have addressed earlier a question from Berlingske that we cannot imagine staying in Russia as things stand now. Of course, we find that very difficult to understand, as there is a difference between how the situation looks now and how it may look in many years' time. Carlsberg is leaving Russia. Full stop.
We have been working hard on this since 28 March last year, and the sales process is now so advanced that we can expect a signed agreement with a buyer before the summer.
If we choose to be transparent about the possibility of a buy-back clause, it is because we hope that there will come a day when we can return to Russia. But it will take many years. It will take at least 10 years, maybe even 20, 30 or 50 years. It is not the same as saying we are going back to Russia. But that a future CEO should have the opportunity to assess whether one day, many years from now, it is the right thing for Carlsberg, provided of course that there is peace in Ukraine and that there is agreement from the Danish and other governments that the situation has changed significantly in Russia.
Finally, Berlingske wonders if we are even planning to leave Russia, or if we are deliberately delaying the process in the hope that we can stay in Russia. We can flatly deny that. We are leaving Russia.
But the process is complex, so it takes time. The Russian operations have been an integral part of our business and the separation process has involved more than 150 work streams across business functions. It's important to remember that this "reverse integration" is just as time-consuming as a normal integration associated with a business deal.
In fact, it is quick to complete within a year given how integrated the Russian business has been into Carlsberg's systems after many years of ownership. In addition, the sale process takes place in a highly volatile regulatory environment which has been mentioned in great detail in the Danish media.
We note that other international companies are also struggling to complete a responsible divestment of their assets in Russia. Our separation process is now close to completion. At the same time, as mentioned, the acquisition process is so advanced that we have now identified less than ten potential buyers of the Russian business. And so, we can say that we expect to have a signed agreement with a buyer by the summer.
We live in extraordinary times. And when complexity increases, facts become even more important. This is true for companies, but certainly also for the media. We hope that the talented people in Berlingske will also take this on board.