Big win for Amazon over rival Reliance in India top court battle

India’s Supreme Court blocks $3.4-bn deal struck by Reliance as battle to dominate country’s retail sector intensifies.

A worker sorts delivery packages in a van outside an Amazon facility in Ahmedabad, India [File: Amit Dave/Reuters]

US e-commerce giant Amazon has won a major legal victory in India as the country’s top court blocks a $3.4bn deal struck by domestic rival Reliance.

Amazon, Walmart-backed Flipkart and Reliance, owned by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, are locked in a titanic battle to dominate online retail in the country of 1.3 billion people.

Reliance struck a deal last year to buy assets belonging to Future Retail, India’s second-largest supermarket chain, owned by Future Group.

Jeff Bezos, president and CEO of Amazon, (left), and Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries [File: Joshua Roberts and Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

The acquisition of Future Group, which owns some of India’s best-known supermarket brands, such as Big Bazaar, would have strengthened Reliance’s presence in the hugely competitive e-commerce sector.

Amazon, which owned a stake in one of Future Group’s firms that reportedly included an option to buy into the flagship company, claimed that the Reliance deal amounted to a breach of contract.

The US online giant last year approached the Singapore International Arbitration Centre which put the Reliance deal on hold after finding merit in Amazon’s objections.

Amazon said the arbitrator’s order was binding, while Future contested its legality. On Friday the Supreme Court ruled that the order was valid.

There was no immediate comment from Reliance or Amazon.

Amazon, owned by the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, has pledged $6.5bn in investment in India, according to Bloomberg News.

Flipkart, which Walmart bought a majority stake in for $16bn in 2018, recently garnered $3.6bn in the country’s largest fundraise at a valuation of nearly $38bn, Bloomberg said.

Future Group founder Kishore Biyani was once known as India’s retail king, but he has struggled in recent years as the coronavirus pandemic dealt a heavy blow to his empire.

Reliance’s shares fell more than 2 percent in Mumbai.

Source: News Agencies