Future Retail lawyer likens Amazon to East India Company over 'kill' remark

A lawyer for Future Retail Limited (FRL) on Thursday told the Delhi High Court that Amazon is interfering with its lawful business. The lawyer argued that due to this thousands may lose jobs and FRL may go bankrupt.

The Delhi High Court is hearing Future Retail's suit related to its deal with Reliance. It was recently halted by an Emergency Arbitrator of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) in favour of Amazon. The arguments from the legal counsels of the companies continued on the third day. The matter was heard by Justice Mukta Gupta. The court adjourned the hearing till November 19, according to the information available on law platform Bar & Bench.

Future Retail which was represented by senior advocate Harish Salve told the court that the interference by Amazon in the Future-Reliance deal would result in thousands of job losses and FRL becoming bankrupt.

“This whole concept of minority rights being protected is nonsense. Thousands may lose jobs, FRL may go bankrupt but this great American giant (Amazon) should not be upset,” said Salve, according to Bar & Bench. “In today's day and age, to say that I will kill a 25,000 crore company. God knows if Amazon still thinks that it's living during the time of the East India Company.”

In August, Future Group struck a Rs 24,713-crore asset sale deal with Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL). Amazon then sent legal notice to Future, alleging the retailer’s deal breached an agreement with the American e-commerce giant. This was because last year, Amazon had bought a 49 per cent stake in one of Future’s unlisted firms Future Coupons Pvt  Ltd (FCPL) for Rs 1,430 crore. 

The matter was then arbitrated at SIAC in which Amazon got a favourable ruling last month. Future Retail's representative had told the arbitration panel in Singapore that if the deal with Reliance Retail fails, then the company would go into liquidation. The closure of the company would lead to over 29,000 job losses.

“Compare the figures invested by Amazon and what Reliance is offering. What is the amount needed to rescue FRL,” Salve told the court on Thursday, according to Bar & Bench. “Amazon says there is no agreement with Reliance yet. So what is the problem? It's the transfer to Reliance.”

Future’s legal counsel argued that the emergency order (in Singapore) has no efficacy in law and the company is entitled to ignore it.

“I am subject to Indian courts. If a gentleman sitting in Singapore says something, I can bin that order. It is not to show any disrespect. I'm saying as a matter of law,” said Salve.

He claimed that the Emergency Arbitrator was not familiar with the Indian ecosystem and fell for the 10 per cent portfolio investment, according to Bar & Bench.

Salve argued that Amazon is not even a minority shareholder in FRL, then how can there be rights conferred upon it. The lawyer contended that the company has not entered into any agreement with Amazon and it can be prevented from representing to the world that the firm needs its permission to save itself.

“Amazon is not a shareholder in FRL. How can (it) complain,” asked Salve.

Future’s legal counsel contended that as a matter of company law, only a board resolution is required for a scheme and all directors voted. There is a fiduciary duty to shareholders when FRL is sinking. It argued that for the sale of retail assets of FRL, only FCPL consent is required. It said Amazon has no rights in FRL. It argued that rights are being asserted which are way beyond shareholders rights.

“You tried your luck coming through the cracks and failed,” said Salve.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel