Amazon-Ambani spat tests patience

Amazon-Ambani spat tests patience
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Amazon-Ambani spat tests patience 

Highlights

The tussle between two of the world’s richest men - Jeff Bezos and Mukesh Ambani - to dominate India’s estimated $1 trillion retail market is testing foreign investor patience with flip-flopping court rulings.

The tussle between two of the world's richest men - Jeff Bezos and Mukesh Ambani - to dominate India's estimated $1 trillion retail market is testing foreign investor patience with flip-flopping court rulings. This week saw new developments in Amazon.com Inc.'s legal battle to block Ambani's Reliance Industries Ltd. from acquiring Future Retail Ltd.'s assets, in what would be the country's largest retail-sector deal. Last week, a single judge at Delhi High Court restrained Future Group firms from selling their assets. On Monday, a set of judges at the court overruled that decision. Amazon can appeal the latest ruling in the country's Supreme Court.

The keenly watched case may set an important legal precedent for investors on whether emergency decisions by foreign arbitrators are valid in India. Amazon had petitioned Indian courts with an order from an emergency arbitration court in Singapore that barred Future Retail from making a deal with Reliance. It could also help overseas investors judge the validity of agreements in India, which the World Bank has ranked among the bottom 15 per cent of countries in terms of enforcing contracts, worse than Venezuela, Syria and Senegal.

"Not giving effect to a foreign arbitration award undermines India's already floundering reputation as a good place to invest and do business in," said Bharat Chugh, a former civil judge in Delhi and now a lawyer practicing in India's top court. Speedy enforcement of contracts and foreign arbitration rulings are important for overseas investors when assessing the attractiveness of an investment destination, he said. Spokespeople at Reliance Industries, Amazon's local unit and Future Group weren't able to comment immediately on the latest ruling. Future Retail's lawyers have argued in court that the deal is their only chance to avoid bankruptcy and save jobs.

Future Retail's shares climbed as much as 10 per cent to Rs 80.5 in Mumbai, the most since November, while its 5.6 per cent 2025 dollar bonds rose 5.9 cents on the dollar, and are now set for their biggest rise since Jan. 21, to 83.54 cents as of noon in Hong Kong, according to Bloomberg-compiled prices. The rulings in Amazon's case come after two big foreign arbitration awards against India. In September, an international arbitration tribunal said India acted unfairly in a $3 billion tax dispute with Vodafone Group Plc and in another ruling ordered India to return $1.2 billion to Cairn Energy Plc for a similar failure. India has challenged the Vodafone ruling in Singapore, India's federal government informed Parliament on Monday. (Bloomberg)

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