US e-commerce major Amazon told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the talks with the Future Group to resolve the dispute over Future Retail’s merger deal with Reliance Retail have failed and sought intervention to ensure that the stores of FRL are not taken over.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana, on March 3, had acceded to Amazon’s request and granted 10 days to it for exploring the possibility of resolving the dispute through dialogue with the Future Group.
The bench, also comprising justices A S Bopanna and Hima Kohli, is hearing Amazon’s appeal against the January 5 order of the Delhi High Court, which stayed the arbitration proceedings before the arbitral tribunal over Future Retail’s merger deal with Reliance Retail.
“It often happens that sometimes, we hope very positively but in the end, it is not positive at all. The conversation was over and failed. Nothing is happening right now,” senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, appearing for Amazon, said, adding that now it wanted arbitration to resume.
Taking note of the submission of the US firm that Reliance has been allegedly taking over the FRL stores and this be stopped, the bench granted Amazon the liberty to file an application, giving details of relief, and posted it for hearing on Wednesday.
“Amazon has been driving us to the knees and they have done so. We are broke. Nothing has been transferred. The rents have not been paid for over two years, we had no money, which is what we have been telling all forums. Our rent agreements are being terminated…,” senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for one of the Future Group firms, said.
“We can talk about the glory and grandeur of things, but when we are broke, we are broke,” Salve said.
Subramanium said Reliance group has made a filing on the stock exchange to say that they are going to enforce their obligations as far as the Future Group is concerned.
“In all fairness, Mr Rohatgi, how can your client take away everything and make the matter infructuous virtually?” the bench asked.
Rohatgi said he is appearing in the matter before the court on behalf of FCPL (Future Coupons Private Limited) and not on behalf of Reliance Retail.
It was alleged by Amazon that on March 3, 600 stores of FRL were taken away, but the fact is not a single store has been surrendered, Salve said.
The Future Group has been saying that the action of Amazon will drive it to bankruptcy, Salve said, adding that the Future Group has no control over the action of Reliance, which is acting outside.
On February 23, the bench had asked Amazon and the Future Group to request the NCLAT to decide on the plea challenging the revocation of sanction to the US e-commerce major for its deal with the Future Group’s firm by the Competition Commission of India.
The suggestion was made by the bench while adjourning the hearing on Amazon’s appeal against the January 5 order of the Delhi High Court staying the ongoing arbitration proceedings before a three-member arbitral tribunal over Future Retail’s Rs 24,500-crore merger deal with Reliance Retail.
On February 9, the apex court had issued notices to Future Group firms on Amazon’s plea against the high court order.
It had sought responses from Future Group firms FCPL and Future Retail Limited (FRL), and said it would hear the matter on February 23 “without any adjournment”.
Amazon and the Future Group have been locked in a legal tussle after the US e-commerce giant dragged the latter to arbitration at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) in October 2020.
The fresh plea, on which the apex court issued notice, has been filed by the US firm assailing the January 5 order of a division bench of the high court, staying the Amazon-Future arbitration.
The division bench of the high court had also stayed a single judge’s January 4 order dismissing the Future Group’s two pleas seeking a direction to the arbitration tribunal to decide on its application for terminating the arbitration proceedings before moving further.
The high court had said there was a prima facie case in favour of FRL and FCPL and if a stay is not granted, it would cause an irreparable loss to them.
Amazon argued that FRL violated their contract by entering into a deal for the sale of its assets to billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail on a slump sale basis for Rs 24,500 crore.
In December last year, the Competition Commission of India suspended its over-two-year-old approval for Amazon’s deal to acquire a 49-per cent stake in FCPL and FRL promoter, and also slapped a penalty of Rs 202 crore on the e-commerce major.
Amazon has been objecting to the sell-off plans, accusing the Future Group of breaching its 2019 investment pact.
Future Coupons was founded in 2008 and is engaged in the business of marketing and distribution of gift cards, loyalty cards and other reward programmes to corporate customers.