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Indian court rejects retail giant Future Group's plea against Amazon

Manish Singh
·3-min read
NEW DELHI, INDIA - JANUARY 16: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos along with Amazon India Chief Amit Agarwal lights the ceremonial lamp during the Amazon's annual Smbhav event at Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium, on January 16, 2020 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images)

An Indian court rejected Future Group's plea that sought to prevent its partner Amazon from interfering in -- and blocking -- the Indian retail giant's $3.4 billion asset sale deal to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, delivering a glimmer of hope to the American e-commerce firm that has invested more than $6.5 billion in the world’s second-largest internet market.

Future Group was seeking an ad-interim injunction to restrain its partner Amazon from writing to regulators and other authorities to raise concerns over -- and halt -- the deal between the two Indian giants. The Delhi High Court ruled on Monday that Amazon cannot be barred from writing to regulators and authorities on account of "potentially irreparable damage." The regulators will decide whether the deal should be approved in accordance with the law, the court said.

The court, however, also observed that the lawsuit filed by Future Retail, a unit of Future Group, was maintainable and its attempt to seek approval of the transaction with Reliance Industries was also valid.

“We welcome the verdict of the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi rejecting the interim injunction sought by Future Retail and their claim that the Emergency Arbitrator process is invalid under Indian law,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

The ruling is the latest episode in the high-stakes battle between estranged partners Amazon and Future Group. Amazon bought 49% in one of Future’s unlisted firms last year in a deal that was valued at over $100 million. As part of that deal, Future could not have sold assets to rivals, Amazon said in court filings.

Things changed this year after the coronavirus pandemic starved the Indian firm of cash, Future Group chief executive and founder Kishore Biyani said at a recent virtual conference. In August, Future Group said that it had reached an agreement with Ambani’s Reliance Industries, which runs India’s largest retail chain, to sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses for $3.4 billion.

Months later, Amazon protested the deal by reaching an arbitrator in Singapore and asked the court to block the deal between the Indian retail giants. Amazon secured emergency relief from the arbitration court in Singapore in late October that temporarily halted Future Group from going ahead with the sale.

Until Monday, it remained unclear whether that ruling would hold any water in front of Indian courts. So much so that hours after the Singapore arbitration court announced its verdict, Future Group and Reliance said in a statement that will be going ahead with the deal "without any delay."

Amazon had also reached out to the Competition Commission of India, the Indian watchdog, to block the deal. Competition Commission of India, however, approved the deal between the Indian firms. In earlier hearings, lawyers for Future Group likened Amazon’s effort to block Future Group’s deal to the East India Company, the British trading house whose arrival in India kicked off nearly 200 years of colonial rule.

At stake is India’s retail market that is estimated to balloon to $1.3 trillion by 2025, up from $700 billion last year, according to consultancy firm BCG and local trade group Retailers’ Association India. Online shopping accounts for about 3% of all retail in India.

Future Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.