‘Hope, I don’t get to hear this case again’: CJI on Amazon, Future Retail matter

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Chief Justice N.V. Ramana on Wednesday said he hopes he does not have to hear this case again, while recording that Amazon and Future Retail Ltd (FRL) will move the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) to resume arbitration proceedings.

A bench headed by him added that the tribunal will consider FRL’s application on priority for termination of arbitration proceedings, and pass orders.

Concluding the hearing in the matter, the Chief Justice said: “I hope, I don’t get to hear this case again”. As senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, representing Amazon, said: “We look forward to appearing before you”, he replied: “no, no, some other case!”

Amazon and Future Group are locked in multi-forum litigation in connection with FRL’s merger deal to the tune of Rs 24,500 crore with Reliance Retail Ltd, after Amazon dragged FRL into arbitration at the SIAC in October 2020.

The top court was considering an application by Amazon seeking a direction to restrain FRL from alienating its assets. Amazon has alleged that FRL surrendered its stores to Reliance.

Senior advocate K.V. Viswanathan, representing FRL, submitted before the court that the tribunal should decide on his client’s application for termination of arbitration proceedings. FRL has sought termination of arbitration proceedings citing Competition Commission of India (CCI) order. In December last year, the CCI had imposed a penalty of Rs 202 crore on Amazon and suspended its approval for the deal with Future Coupons, a promoter firm of the group’s public listed company Future Retail Ltd, seeking more information.

Subramanium submitted that the single judge of the Delhi High Court has taken over the enforcement application.

“Thus, we don’t have to bother you and the other side also cooperated with us,” he submitted before the bench, also comprising Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli.

The bench noted parties agree that proceedings are underway before the single judge of the high court and thus, these applications are also sent to the single judge. Disposing of the plea, the bench said parties will approach the tribunal to resume arbitral proceedings and the tribunal will consider the termination application by FRL as under Section 32(2)(C), of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996, and pass orders.

Earlier, the top court had asked FRL and Amazon to jointly urge the Delhi High Court to first hear Amazon’s enforcement petitions, in connection with preservation of assets of FRL.

Last week, senior advocate Harish Salve, representing FRL, told the Supreme Court that nobody wants to do business with it as Section 7 of the IBC may come any day, and the company owes landlords thousands of crores in rentals, as Amazon could not get Future Retail, it destroyed the company. He added that Reliance entered into agreement with the landlords (of its shops), and Future Retail owes Rs 3,000 crore in rentals.

Subramanium had vehemently objected to the sudden handover of Future Retail assets. Citing a prayer in Amazon’s application, Subramanium opposed the alienation of Future Retail assets, saying: “Can’t be a magical switch… Future Retail shops should continue to remain with it; operated by FRL until matter is resolved by an arbitral tribunal.”

Amazon moved the apex court challenging Delhi High Court’s January 5 order, which stayed the proceedings before the arbitral tribunal over FRL’s merger deal with Reliance Retail.

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