Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani. Photo: Reuters
Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani. Photo: Reuters

Indian conglomerate Reliance denied a report Thursday that it was planning to sell a US$20 billion stake in its retail business to US rival Amazon in a deal that could upend the country’s hugely lucrative e-commerce sector.

The report published by Bloomberg on Thursday said that Reliance, owned by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, had offered Amazon a 40% stake in its retail subsidiary RRVL, citing an unidentified person with knowledge of the matter.

The deal, which would have been the largest for India and for the Silicon Valley behemoth according to Bloomberg data, would have shaken up the South Asian nation’s retail sector, transforming the relationship between two firms that have spent months locked in frenzied competition.

But a source at the Indian oil-to-telecoms giant disputed the report, which sent Reliance shares up by more than 7% in Mumbai, calling it “incorrect.”

“It makes no sense for both the parties to establish partnerships or collaborations,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

Reliance has been fighting Amazon and Walmart-backed Flipkart for a share of India’s online market, establishing its digital platform JioMart in May.

After spending years battling local mom-and-pop shops for customers, the retail giants are now trying to work hand-in-hand with the smaller stores that dominate India’s towns and hinterlands to bring them online.

Reliance last month announced its acquisition of the retail, wholesale and logistics businesses of India’s Future Group, which owns some of the country’s best-known supermarket brands, adding about 1,800 stores to its portfolio.

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