Amazon-Future case: SC irked over parties filing voluminous records, seeks small common compilation

By: |
November 23, 2021 3:35 PM

Amazon had dragged Future Group to arbitration at SIAC in October last year, arguing that FRL had violated their contract by entering into the deal with rival Reliance.

supreme courtThe bench was also hearing a counter plea by Amazon, seeking to restrain the regulators from approving the merger deal. (File)

Irked over “truckload” of bulky documents filed by parties in a batch of petitions arising out of the Amazon-Future Retail case, the Supreme Court Tuesday asked whether the purpose was just to drag on or “harass the judges” and sought a common small compilation of documents.

A bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice A S Bopanna and Hima Kohli asked the counsel for parties to file small volume of documents so that the matter can be disposed of, and fixed the case for hearing on December 8.

“I am sorry to say to all of you. What is the fun in filing 22-23 volumes of records. How many documents both sides have filed repeatedly and is it the purpose of just dragging on or otherwise to harass the judges,” said the CJI.

“It is completely unnecessary,” senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the Future group, said and suggested that both sides can discuss and file a common document along with short written notes.

There is a problem in locating the volume, the bench said, adding “Give us some time. Do one thing. Can you make a small compilation of these documents which you are relying upon. Truckload of volume has been filed yesterday”.

Meanwhile, the bench allowed the IDBI trusteeship, which had moved the apex court seeking to de-freeze Future Retail shares pledged to it, withdrew its plea and said that it will go to the Delhi High Court with its plea.

The pledged shares have been attached at the orders of the high court, senior advocate N K Kaul said, adding that since the apex court had barred the high court from proceeding with the case, the IDBI trusteeship has failed to access its shares.

On November 11, the top court judge Justice Hima Kohli had offered to recuse herself from hearing the pleas, saying she and her family members have shares in Reliance Industries Ltd group firms, one of the interested parties to the litigation.

“We have no objection,” said a battery of lawyers appearing for parties Amazon, Future Retail Limited (FRL) and Future Coupons Private Ltd (FCPL).

The top court was hearing a fresh petition of Future Group against the Delhi High Court’s recent order declining its plea for stay on an arbitration tribunal decision refusing to interfere with the Singapore International Arbitration Centre’s (SIAC) Emergency Award (EA) which restrained it from going ahead with the Rs 24,731 crore merger deal with Reliance Retail.

The bench was also hearing a counter plea by Amazon, seeking to restrain the regulators from approving the merger deal.

It said the last order was passed with the consent of the parties that the regulatory authorities will not approve the merger deal without prior nod from the top court.

The dispute over the merger deal has seen several rounds of litigation after SIAC passed the EA in favour of the US firm on October 25, 2020 staying the merger.

On October 21 this year, a duly-constituted panel of arbitrators at SIAC reiterated the decision of the EA.

Then on October 29, the Delhi High Court declined Future Group’s plea for stay on the arbitration tribunal order refusing to interfere with the EA which restrained it from going ahead with the Rs 24,731 crore merger deal with Reliance Retail.

The high court sought response from Amazon which had challenged the merger before the SIAC, and listed the appeals by FCPL and FRL for further hearing on January 4, 2022.

FRL and FCPL moved the top court recently against the order with fresh pleas.

Kishore Biyani and 15 others including FRL and FCPL have been embroiled in a series of litigations with Amazon, an investor in FCPL, over the deal with Reliance. Following the EA, subsequently, a three-member arbitral tribunal was constituted to decide the issues arising from the deal.

On September 9, the apex court had stayed for four weeks all proceedings before the high court in relation to the implementation of the EA and also directed statutory authorities like National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), Competition Commission of India (CCI) and Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) not to pass any final order related to the merger deal in the meantime.

Subsequently, the arbitration tribunal under the SIAC rejected on October 21 the FRL plea to lift the interim stay granted by its EA on October 25 last year, observing that “the Award was correctly granted”.

Amazon had dragged Future Group to arbitration at SIAC in October last year, arguing that FRL had violated their contract by entering into the deal with rival Reliance.

The FRL and FCPL had moved the top court against the high court order of August 17 which said that it would implement the earlier order by its single-judge restraining FRL from going ahead with the deal in pursuance of the EA’s award.

The high court had said that in the absence of a stay, it would have to enforce the order passed by its single judge, Justice J R Midha, on March 18.

On March 18, besides restraining FRL from going ahead with its deal with Reliance Retail, the court had imposed costs of Rs 20 lakh on the Future Group and others associated with it and ordered attachment of their properties.

On August 6, the Supreme Court gave the verdict in favour of Amazon and held that EA award, restraining the Rs 24,731 crore FRL-Reliance Retail merger deal, is valid and enforceable under Indian arbitration laws.

The apex court had also set aside the two orders of February 8 and March 22 of the division bench of the Delhi High Court order which had lifted the single-judge’s orders staying the FRL-RRL merger.

A bench headed by Justice R F Nariman, since retired, had dealt with the larger question and held that an award of an EA of a foreign country is enforceable under the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act.

 

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