Future Retail Case: Delhi HC orders all authorities to maintain status quo

Delhi High Court on Monday 8th February, in a judgement has put a stay single judge direction to Future Retail Ltd (FRL) to maintain status quo on 24,713 crore deal with Reliance Retail.

The High Court refused Amazon’s request to remain in suspension for a week for its decision to stay the status quo order concerning Future-Reliance deal.

“Statutory authorities should not be restrained from proceeding in accordance with law on Future-Reliance deal,” said Delhi High Court in its verdict.

A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh passed the interim direction on FRL’s appeal questioning the 2nd February order of the single judge.

Kishore Biyani-led Future Retail Ltd (FRL) today told the Delhi High Court that Jeff Bezos-led Amazon’s statement that it wanted to rescue the Indian company was “humbug”.

The court was hearing an appeal by FRL challenging the 2nd February order of a single judge directing it to maintain status quo on the 24,713 crore deal with Reliance Retail.

The argument was made before a bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh by senior advocate Harish Salve after ending of arguments on behalf of the US e-commerce company.

Amazon, represented by senior advocates Gopal Subramanium and Rajiv Nayar, began arguments at 2.15 pm on Monday from where they had left off on 5th February.

They repeated that FRL’s appeal, against a single judge order of 2nd February, was not preservable.

They also argued that the 25th October, 2020 Emergency Arbitrator (EA) order by the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) was a legitimate award and enforceable. The EA order had controlled FRL from going forward with the deal with Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail.

After Amazon concluded its arguments, Salve, in contradiction, said that if Amazon wanted to salvage FRL, it could have undoubtedly invested 25,000 crore which was “peanuts” for the company. He said that Amazon keeps saying it wanted to and wants to help FRL, but it was all “humbug” as it did not undertake any such measures. Salve further argued that the EA order was not valid as an earlier single judge order of December last year had stated that there was no arbitration agreement between FRL and Amazon. He added that the instant appeal against the 2nd February order was maintainable under the Civil Procedure Code.

Amazon on 5th February had impelled the court to declare that the EA award was akin to an order of court and imposable like any other judicial direction.

FRL had previously told the high court that Amazon was conflicting the 24,713 crore deal with Reliance as the Mukesh Ambani company was a competitor, a contention denied by Amazon which said it was interested in salvaging FRL.

FRL had told the court that Amazon was not apprehensive that if the deal did not go through then all the shops of the Indian company would be shut down and it’s more than 25,000 employees would be without any livelihood.

FRL, in its appeal filed through law firm Naik and Naik and Company and advocate Harshvardhan Jha, has claimed that if the 2nd February order was not stayed it “would be an absolute disaster” for it as the proceedings before the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) for allowing the merging scheme have been put on hold.

It had also asserted that the single judge’s status quo order will effectively derail the entire scheme which has been approved by statutory authorities in accordance with law.

The 2nd February order had come on Amazon’s suit seeking enforcement of the EA order restraining FRL from going ahead with its 24,713 crore deal with Reliance Retail.

In its suit, Amazon has also searched to prevent Kishore Biyani-led Future Group from taking any steps to complete the transaction with entities that are a part of the Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani (MDA) Group.

Apart from this, Amazon has also sought detention of the Biyanis, directors of FCPL and FRL and other related parties in civil prison and attaching of their properties for alleged “wilful disobedience” of the EA order.

In the last August, Future had reached an agreement to sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing units to Reliance.

While booking an order on Amazon’s suit to enforce the EA order, Justice Midha ordered all concerned authorities to maintain status quo with respect to the matters which are in violation of the arbitral award and to file status report with regard to the present status within 10 days.