India's Future Retail seeks tribunal OK for $3.4bln asset sale deal; Amazon pushes to block

Indian stock exchanges last week cleared Future's deal with Reliance but another key approval is needed

  
Customers shop at the Big Bazaar retail store in Mumbai June 9, 2012. Six months after the government backtracked on plans to allow foreign retail giants such as Wal-Mart Stores and Carrefour to form joint ventures, cash-starved domestic chains are selling assets, shutting stores, and scaling back expansion plans. Picture taken June 9, 2012.

Customers shop at the Big Bazaar retail store in Mumbai June 9, 2012. Six months after the government backtracked on plans to allow foreign retail giants such as Wal-Mart Stores and Carrefour to form joint ventures, cash-starved domestic chains are selling assets, shutting stores, and scaling back expansion plans. Picture taken June 9, 2012.

REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

NEW DELHI - India's Future Retail has approached a tribunal to seek a key approval for its $3.4 billion asset sale to Reliance Industries, its lawyer told a court on Thursday, even as partner Amazon tries to block the transaction.

Amazon is locked in bitter legal disputes with Future and alleges the Indian firm violated some of their pre-existing contracts by selling its retail assets to Reliance last year. Future denies any wrongdoing.

Indian stock exchanges last week cleared Future's deal with Reliance but another key approval is needed from the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), as per Indian law. The approval is key for Future to seal the deal, without which the country's second largest retailer could face liquidation. 

The outcome of the dispute embroiling Future, Reliance and Amazon is seen shaping India's retail landscape, especially in deciding who will take the top spot in the fast-growing groceries market all are competing in. 

Future has filed a petition with the NCLT on Jan. 26, Darius Khambata, the lawyer for Future, told the Delhi High Court during a hearing in a separate ongoing legal fight over the deal.

In the court, Amazon and Future are currently arguing over the applicability of an October injunction by a Singapore arbitrator, which both sides agreed to use in case of disputes. The arbitrator had said Future-Reliance deal should be put on hold. 

Future has maintained the arbitration order is not binding on it, while Amazon says it is.

Lawyers for Amazon on Thursday criticized Future during the hearing for approaching the NCLT for approval, while the Delhi court was hearing a matter over the deal.

The judge will continue to hear the arguments on Friday.

The dispute centres around Future's decision in August to sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and some other businesses to Reliance for $3.38 billion, including debt.

Amazon argues that a 2019 deal it had with a Future unit had clauses saying the Indian group couldn’t sell its retail assets to anyone on a "restricted persons" list, including Reliance.

(Reporting by Aditya in Mumbai and Abhirup Roy in New Delhi; Editing by Bernadette Baum) ((abhirup.roy@thomsonreuters.com; + 91 22 6180 7067; Reuters Messaging: abhirup.roy.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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