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SC orders resumption of arbitration over FRL merger with Reliance Retail

The Supreme Court has taken note of the consent of US e-commerce major Amazon and Future group and ordered the resumption of arbitral proceedings before the SIAC tribunal over Future Retail’s merger deal to the tune of Rs 24,500 crore with Reliance Retail Ltd.

A bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli referred to the “memo” filed by Amazon and Future group and said that the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) would deal with the plea of FRL on termination of arbitration proceedings on a priority basis.

“The Parties will approach the arbitration tribunal to resume arbitration proceedings on the understanding that it (SIAC) will hear FRL’s termination application … under Section 32 (2) (c) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act ) on priority and pass orders,” the bench said in its order.

The bench said the SIAC tribunal would pass an appropriate order on a plea of FRL filed under Section 32 (2) (c) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act which provides for passing an order if the “arbitral tribunal finds that the continuation of the proceedings has for any other reason become unnecessary or impossible.”

Disposing of the plea of Amazon, the top court, meanwhile, said that it was transferring the interim plea of the US firm, seeking preservation of FRL’s assets till the conclusion of the arbitration, to the single-judge bench of the Delhi High Court.

Senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, appearing for Amazon, said that the counsel for Future group supported him before the Delhi High Court in seeking an early hearing on the enforcement petitions of Amazon which also relate to the preservation of assets of FRL.

Amazon had moved the top court against the January 5 order of the Delhi High Court, which stayed the proceedings before the arbitral tribunal over Future Retail’s merger deal with Reliance Retail.

Amazon and Future Group are engaged in multi-forum litigation on the issue of FRL’s merger deal with Reliance Retail Ltd after the US e-commerce giant dragged FRL into arbitration at the SIAC in October 2020.

Earlier, Subramanium had said that Amazon was seeking an interim order to ensure that the FRL assets, including “Big Bazaar shops”, are not alienated till the dispute over its merger with Reliance Retail is decided by an arbitral tribunal.

The bench had asked him why it cannot be dealt with and decided by the single-judge bench of the high court.

“The learned single judge is declining to hear the enforcement petitions and he says that the priority is given to the interim relief in the appeal,” Subramanium had said.

The submission was opposed by senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for FRL, saying that Amazon has argued the same plea before the high court for two days.

“When hearing is going on, judges say things and that is the nature of the game. Ultimately what order comes out may accept one or the other point of view. It is not fair to the judge when you (Amazon) come and say that he is declining. No order has been passed. The learned judge is hearing everything,”Salve had said.

Salve had agreed and said that no order to this effect was needed to be passed as he would support Amazon and make a request to the high court that the enforcement petitions of the US firm are heard first.

Amazon had apprehended the “disappearance” of assets and sought an interim order from the top court to ensure the preservation of the FRL assets, besides the resumption of arbitration over FRL’s merger deal with Reliance Retail.

The bench had taken note of the allegations of the US firm that the “applecart was being upset” by its rivals and asked the Future Group firms — FRL and Future Coupons Limited (FCPL) — to respond to Amazon’s interim plea.

It has been alleged by Amazon that on March 3, as many as 600 stores of FRL were taken away by Reliance. PTI

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