Future Retail moves Delhi HC against Amazon, alleges interference by US co in deal with RIL

The Future group firm has contended that Amazon is "misusing" the interim order passed by an emergency arbitrator of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) on October 25, 2020.
Delhi High Court (File hoto | Shekhar Yadav, EPS)
Delhi High Court (File hoto | Shekhar Yadav, EPS)

NEW DELHI: Kishore Biyani led Future Retail Ltd (FRL) on Saturday moved the Delhi High Court seeking "reliefs" against Amazon from "interfering" with its RIL deal and alleged that the e-commerce giant was "misusing" an interim order passed by a Singapore arbitrator.

The Future Group and Amazon have been locked in a battle after the US-based company dragged the partner into an arbitration over alleged breach of contract.

Amazon had received a favourable ruling from the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) that put the Rs 24,713-crore deal between Future Group and Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) on hold.

"The company has filed necessary suit in the Delhi High Court on November 7, 2020 in relation to seeking necessary reliefs against Amazon. com NV Investment Holdings LLC (Amazon) from interfering with the Transaction by misusing an Interim Order dated October 25, 2020 issued by an Emergency Arbitrator, appointed by the SIAC," FRL said in a regulatory filing on Saturday.

The filing noted that FRL has "made all entities parties to the suit, which were parties to the arbitration proceedings, this includes the promoters of the company".

FRL added that relief has been sought in the suit only against Amazon.

Amazon did not respond to the email queries.

According to sources, FRL petition is expected to come for hearing on Tuesday.

Both Amazon and Future group have already filed caveats before the Delhi High Court requesting that they be heard if a plea is filed by the other party.

Earlier this month, FRL had stated that it would initiate all appropriate actions under applicable laws in order to protect its interest and that of its stakeholders.

It had questioned the applicability of the SIAC order, saying the interim order was passed in an arbitration proceeding initiated by Amazon against FRL under an agreement, wherein the "company is not a party to the agreement".

FRL had said the Singapore arbitrator's interim order is "not binding", and any attempt to enforce it will be "resisted".

It had said it had been advised that "an Emergency Arbitrator (EA) has no legal status" under Part I of the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 and therefore, the proceedings are "void and Coram non-judice".

The EA Order having been passed by an authority without jurisdiction is a "nullity under Indian law", it had added.

Amazon had moved the SIAC arguing that Future Group had breached a contract where Amazon, in 2019, had bought a 49 per cent stake in one of Future's unlisted firms, Future Coupons Ltd, with the right to buy into flagship FRL after a period between 3 and 10 years.

Future Coupons owns a 7.3 per cent stake in FRL.

In August this year, Future had reached an agreement to sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing units to Reliance.

On October 25, the SIAC had passed an interim award in favour of Amazon, with a single-judge bench of V K Rajah barring FRL from taking any step to dispose of or encumber its assets or issuing any securities to secure any funding from a restricted party.

Amazon had also written to market regulator Sebi and stock exchanges, urging them to take into consideration the Singapore arbitrator's interim judgement.

As per the SIAC interim order, a three-member arbitration panel needs to be set up within 90 days (from the date of the judgement) with one judge each being appointed by Future and Amazon, along with a third neutral judge.

Amazon, Reliance and Walmart Inc's Flipkart are in a battle to gain market share in India, where millions of middle-class customers are newly adopting online purchases of food and groceries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The booming e-commerce market in the country will be worth USD 86 billion by 2024, according to research firm Forrester.

The stakes are particularly high for Amazon, which believes India is a big growth market after shutting its online store in China last year.

The oil-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance has since September 9 sold an 8.48 per cent stake in its retail unit to investors such as Silver Lake, KKR and Mubadala for Rs 37,710 crore to expand its so-called new commerce venture, which uses neighbourhood stores for online deliveries of groceries, apparel and electronics.

RIL, through its retail arm Reliance Retail, operates close to 12,000 stores and is looking to dislodge Amazon and Flipkart, which together control about 70 per cent of the online market in India.

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