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Amazon wins interim relief; Future-Reliance Retail deal put on hold

By Administrator_India

Capital Sands

Amazon.com has won an interim order against partner Future Group selling its retail business to Reliance Industries (RIL) for Rs 24,713. The order, passed in a Singapore-based arbitration panel on October 25, effectively puts a pause to the Future-RIL deal.

Amazon had taken the case to the panel alleging violation of contract by the Kishore Biyani-owned group. As per the deal, Future Retail signed off stake to Reliance Retail Ventures (RRVL) in August 2020.

“RRVL has entered into the transaction for acquisition of assets and business of Future Retail under proper legal advice and the rights and obligations are fully enforceable under Indian Law,” RRVL said.

“RRVL intends to enforce its rights and complete the transaction in terms of the scheme and agreement with Future group without any delay,” the statement added.

Amazon, last year, had bought a 49 per cent stake in one of Future’s unlisted firms, Future Coupons Ltd, with the right to buy into flagship Future Retail after a period between three and 10 years. Future Coupons owns a 7.3 per cent stake in Future Retail.

The e-commerce giant thus dragged Future to arbitration after the indebted group firm signed a pact to sell its retail, wholesale, logistics, and warehousing units to billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s RIL on August 29, 2020.

Passing an interim award in favour of Amazon, VK Rajah asked Future group to put the deal on hold and said that the deal cannot go through until it finally decides the matter, sources with direct knowledge of the development said.

Confirming the development, an Amazon spokesperson said that the arbitration panel has granted the reliefs sought by it and expect an expeditious conclusion of the arbitration process.

“We welcome the award of the Emergency Arbitrator. We are grateful for the order which grants all the reliefs that were sought. We remain committed to an expeditious conclusion of the arbitration process,” the Amazon spokesperson said.

Amazon believes Future Group violated the contract by entering into the deal with rival Reliance. The deal would have helped Reliance almost double its footprint as India’s largest retailer.

With the dispute, Amazon is drawing the battle lines with Reliance in the race for India’s estimated $1 trillion retail market, where online shopping is gaining ground. It needs the Indian partner to strengthen its foothold after becoming the authorized online sales channel for Future Retail’s stores that sell everything from groceries to cosmetics and apparel.

A source said a three-member arbitration panel, with Future and Amazon appointing one representative each and a third member being a neutral umpire, would decide on the dispute in 90 days.

Amazon team was represented by Gopal Subramanium, Gourab Banerji, Amit Sibal and Alvin Yeo. While Future Retail side was represented by advocate Harish Salve, sources said.

Earlier on October 16, the hearing was concluded by the arbitration panel at Singapore International Arbitration Centre.

The tussle between Future and Amazon comes at a time when Reliance has been bolstering its position in the country’s retail segment. RRVL has been on a fund raising spree and since September and has raised Rs 37,710 crore by selling stake in its retail arm.

RRVL, operates India’s largest, fastest-growing and most profitable retail business spanning supermarkets, consumer electronics chain stores, cash and carry wholesale business, fast-fashion outlets and online grocery store JioMart.

It operates about 12,000 stores in nearly 7,000 towns, with 640 million footfalls across core categories of grocery, consumer electronics and apparel. Revenues of Reliance Retail in FY20 stood at Rs 1.63 lakh crore.

The investments equip Reliance Retail with funds to compete in both offline and online formats. The investments come as the country’s retail sector prepares for the upcoming festival season and would help Reliance to launch an assault on rivals such as Walmart-owned Flipkart and Amazon.