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Giving new meaning to the term “hostile takeover,” Russian court bailiffs and armed security personnel representing Russia’s Alfa-Group on Saturday took over the office of ZAO, the so-called Trade House of Descendants of Peter Smirnov and legal claimants to the famous Russian Imperial vodka label Smirnoff. The company’s CEO, Boris Smirnov, and his staff resisted the takeover, throwing cases of vodka from windows at the assailants. But the defenders eventually lost the fight, suffering serious injuries. Among those hurt were Smirnov’s wife, Elena. The Alfa-Group said it acted on the authority of a Nov. 3 Moscow court ruling to fire the company CEO Smirnov and transfer the Smirnov trademark to Alfa. Alfa-Echo, trading arm of the Alfa-Group, “owns 50% of Smirnov stock,” Alfa spokesman Guennady Porskov said. But Boris Smirnov alleged that Alfa’s acquisition was illegal and the court ruling was a mistake. “Alfa does not want Smirnov business, they just want to re-sell the stake and the trademark,” Smirnov’s deputy Alexander Drozdov said. He added that the physical conflict with Alfa may have negative repercussions in a U.S. courtroom. In September, a panel of three U.S. federal judges delayed a decision on whether to allow a trial in a lawsuit by the Russian descendants of vodka maker Pierre Smirnov against Britain’s drinks group Diageo PLC. Smirnov alleged that Diageo’s top-selling Smirnoff vodka falsely advertises itself as a continuation of the “purveyor to the Russian Imperial Court.” Diageo’s Heublein Inc. unit, acquired in 1997, says it owns the Smirnoff label. In 1999, a lower court in Delaware dismissed Smirnov’s 1995 lawsuit, saying the plaintiff had waited too long to sue. Copyright (c)2000 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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