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International: Amazon in brutal fight over Indian retail assets

Amazon has requested an Indian court to block partner Future Group’s US$3.4 billion deal to sell its retail assets and called for the Indian group’s CEO to be detained, a court filing seen by Reuters showed.

In the US giant’s latest effort to derail Future’s asset sale to Reliance Industries, it asked the High Court in New Delhi to enforce the decision of a Singapore arbitrator, which Amazon and Future had agreed to use in case of disputes, the filing showed.

In October, the arbitrator issued an interim order saying Future’s deal with Reliance should be put on hold.

Future has “deliberately” disobeyed the arbitrator’s order without challenging it, Amazon argued in its court filing, which is likely to be heard by the court in New Delhi later this week.

Any violation of the arbitrator order invites the “same consequences” as a violation of an Indian court order would, Amazon argued, urging the court to also detain Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani, and some other respondents in the case, in a civil prison.

Future, in a statement to India’s BSE and NSE stock exchanges, said it had been informed by Amazon lawyers about the court filing, and that it would defend the case.

Future and a spokesman for Biyani, as well as Reliance, did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Amazon declined to comment.

Amazon has also asked the court to attach assets of Biyani to the case so they can’t be disposed of. Biyani is often dubbed India’s retail king for transforming the country’s retailing in recent decades.

Amazon argues Future breached some pre-existing clauses by entering into a deal with Reliance, but the Indian group has maintained the arbitrator’s order is not binding and needs to be ratified by an Indian court.

The US group’s latest court move comes after Indian stock exchanges last week gave the go ahead to the Future deal, after communicating with India’s markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).

The Amazon filing also argued that Future should not rely on any regulatory approval it has received, in light of the arbitrator’s injunction.

The dispute centres around Future’s decision in August to sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and some other businesses to Reliance for US$3.38 billion, including debt.

Amazon argues that a 2019 deal it had with a Future unit had clauses saying the Indian group couldn’t sell its retail assets to anyone on a “restricted persons” list including Reliance.

The outcome of the dispute embroiling Future, Reliance and Amazon is seen shaping India’s retail landscape, especially in deciding who will occupy the top spot in the groceries market which could be worth around US$740 billion a year by 2024, according to a forecast by Forrester Research.

  • Reporting by Aditya Kalra
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