Amazon asks Delhi High Court to detain Future Group founder, others

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The legal battle between Jeff Bezos-led Amazon and Kishore Biyani-headed Future Group has intensified. has filed a petition in the Delhi High Court, asking for the detention of Future Group’s founder and his family members, and seizure of assets for violating a Singapore arbitration court’s order to temporarily halt the group’s $3.4-billion deal with Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries (RIL), revealed sources.

“In the light of above, the necessary consequence of the wilful disobedience by the majority respondents and KMP (key managerial personnel) respondents entails attachment of property of the aforesaid respondents and detention in the civil prison of the respondent Nos. 3-11, as well as the directors of FCLP (Future Coupons), FRL (Future Retail), respondent No. 14, 15 and 16,” said the Amazon petition, which was seen by Business Standard.

In a late evening statement to stock exchanges, Future Retail, the listed flagship of the group, said it was aware of the petition filed by Amazon and would defend itself.

In Amazon’s petition, respondent No. 3 has been mentioned as Kishore Biyani, executive chairman and group CEO of FRL; respondent No. 8 is Rakesh Biyani, who is the managing director of FRL.

The detention of Ashni Kishore Biyani, daughter of Kishore Biyani and respondent No. 4, has also been sought, besides some other family members. Other such respondents include Anil Biyani, Gopikishan Biyani, Laxminarayan Biyani, Sunil Biyani, Vijay Biyani, and Vivek Biyani.

“The petitioner submits that if the relief as sought for in the present petition are not granted, the majority respondents and KMP respondents will proceed with the impugned transaction, as they have publicly declared and repeatedly sought,” said the petition. It said this will vitiate the petitioner’s entire investment in FCPL, which is not compensable in monetary terms. “Thus, if the majority respondent and KMP respondents continue with their contumacious conduct, it will cause irreparable loss and injury to the petitioner.”

According to an analysis of the petition by legal experts, Amazon in its present petition filed before the Delhi HC has accused Future Group’s founders and other respondents of violating the court’s order dated December 21, 2020.

“Here the court had essentially upheld the validity of the order passed by the Emergency Arbitrator passed in Singapore under the SIAC (Singapore International Arbitration Centre) Rules, as valid under Indian law,” said Salman Waris, managing partner at technology law firm TechLegis Advocates and Solicitors.

He said Amazon has also alleged in the petition that Future Group’s founders and other respondents have misrepresented and selectively quoted from the order of the HC before various authorities and government bodies to be able to secure necessary approvals for their deal, thus committing contempt. “Hence Amazon has now sought the implementation of the October 25, 2020, order of the HC seeking an injunction against the Future Group founders and other respondents and also their detention in civil prison.”

Last week, the markets regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), approved Future Group’s scheme of arrangement and sale of assets to Reliance. Based on this, the Bombay Stock Exchange also granted its “no adverse observation” report to the deal. However, Amazon said Sebi’s approval for Future Retail’s deal with Reliance Industries is subject to court decisions.

Sebi has allowed the deal with some riders. It reportedly said the litigation pending before the Delhi HC and arbitration proceedings by Amazon contesting the deal should be specifically mentioned by Future Group while seeking shareholders’ or the National Company Law Tribunal’s approval. It also reportedly held that Sebi’s go-ahead on the draft scheme of arrangement would be subject to the outcome of these proceedings.

Equipped with the notice from the high court, Amazon this month had also sent another letter to Sebi, requesting it not to issue a “no-objection certificate (NOC)” to the Future Retail-Reliance Industries deal and suspend the review immediately. The e-commerce firm had further urged the markets regulator to direct the Indian stock exchanges not to issue no-objection or approval letter to Future Retail.

This month it also informed Sebi about the formation of an arbitration tribunal at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC). The next phase of arbitration proceedings between Amazon and Future Group is expected to begin soon in Singapore, according to the sources.

In August 2020, Future Group struck a $3.4-billion asset sale deal with Reliance Industries (RIL). Amazon then sent a legal notice to Future, alleging the retailer’s deal breached an agreement with the American e-commerce giant.

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