In a major setback to Future Group, the Supreme Court on Thursday said the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) can go ahead with the arbitration proceedings filed by e-commerce major Amazon against the retail firm.
In a strongly worded response to the plea of Future Group’s counsel seeking a deferral till the Delhi High Court pronounced its order in the matter, Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said: “The intention of your client is to defeat the arbitration; your client is stultifying the order of the apex court. As the CJI, I am concerned…All ploys by well heeled parties to delay the arbitration proceeding. Your client is trying to be too clever by half.”
He further said Future Group has filed more than 200 petitions to stall the proceedings. “This is an international arbitration…Is this how the courts of this country will bring repute to the process? Global India must maintain the sanctity of international arbitral proceedings…We will not let the arbitration process be stultified,” he added.
The matter will be next heard on November 25. The CJI has directed the parties to be present before the SIAC on November 28.
The Singapore International Arbitration Centre is scheduled to hold the final hearing in the arbitration proceedings on November 28, but Future had objected on the grounds that the Delhi HC has reserved its order on its petition challenging the maintainability of the arbitration.
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Future counsel KV Vishwanathan on Thursday submitted that the apex court can request the high court to pronounce the order, and accordingly, the arbitration can be proceeded with or terminated.
However, the submission was rejected by the CJI, who said: “We will not pressure the HC judge and say you have to render order.”
He said that the arbitration can proceed on November 28 and if the HC holds that it is not maintainable, the tribunal will not go on. “But if you (Future Group) fail before the HC, you have to go to the tribunal.”
The CJI also said once the tribunal rejects the termination application, the order of the apex court has to be given effect to. “We are concerned with the fact that the order of the Supreme Court should not be reduced to a nullity,” he said.
With Future Retail going into insolvency, Amazon is no longer seeking a performance of contract but wants monetary compensation pertaining to its Rs 1,400-crore investment in Future Coupons.
The dispute between Future and Amazon dates back to October 25, 2020, when the Singapore’s emergency arbitrator restrained Future Retail from going ahead with its Rs 24,500-crore takeover deal with Reliance Retail.
Amazon, which had acquired an indirect minority stake in a Future Group entity, Future Coupons (FCPL), in 2019 for Rs 1,400 crore, has alleged that Future’s sale of its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses to Reliance Retail breached its pre-existing contract, which included a right of the first offer and a non-compete clause.
However, in December 2021, the Competition Commission (CCI) put the approval given by it in 2019 to the deal in abeyance on the ground that Amazon had not disclosed full information. However, on June 28, SIAC had rejected Future Group’s plea seeking termination of arbitration proceedings on this ground. Future subsequently moved the Delhi HC for quashing the proceedings.
The Future-Reliance deal finally fell through as it could not get the approval of the company’s lenders and shareholders and Future Retail is currently undergoing insolvency.