Customers outside a Big Bazaar outlet in Gurgaon Haryana, India, on January 13, 2019. Photo: AFP/Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto

In a new twist to the legal battle between Indian retailer Future Group and US e-commerce giant Amazon, the former has accused the latter of not providing any help during a crisis despite being a stakeholder.

Future Group founder and CEO Kishore Biyani said the company approached Amazon eight times seeking help during the cash crunch caused by the Covid-19 crisis but the e-commerce giant did not oblige. Amazon has a small stake in Future Retail, after it acquired a 49% stake in Future Coupons in 2019.

The Indian retailer then approached Reliance Industries and in August last year it sold its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehouse businesses to the oil-to-retail conglomerate for nearly 250 billion rupees (US$3.4 billion). This included the sale of its supermarket chain Big Bazaar, premium food supply unit Foodhall and fashion and clothes supermart Brand Factory’s retail and wholesale units.

Amazon later approached the Singapore International Arbitration Centre to allege that it breached their 2019 agreement as it had provided them the first right of refusal during a stake sale. There is also a non-compete clause that prevents Future Group from approaching Amazon’s competitors. The Singapore arbitration court had on October 25 ordered a stay and told Future Group not to proceed with the sale and await the outcome of the arbitration process, which is expected to commence later in January.

In an interview to Press Trust of India, Biyani said Amazon was fully aware of Future Group’s talks with Reliance. He also pointed out that the 2019 deal with Amazon was only for coupon and gifting business and that it could continue even after Future Group’s sale of retail assets to Reliance.

As for discussions held with Amazon, Biyani said their response was always “let’s find a solution,” but never got any except “lots of paper works.”

“We approached Reliance only after things were not moving. You cannot work with one option at a time,” he told the news agency. He also said that Amazon was apprised of this development.

However, Amazon has challenged this version of events. “It is incorrect to say that Amazon did not offer help to Future Retail Limited as there were ongoing discussions on multiple options with partners on the one hand and with the promoters of Future on the other, including a signed Term Sheet,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

Future Group had earlier questioned the Singapore court stay and approached Delhi High Court, but the latter had upheld Amazon’s right to make representations to statutory authorities against the proposed deal.

The Indian retailer has also approached the stock market watchdog Securities and Exchange Board of India to expedite the review of the proposed deal and issue a no-objection certificate, while Amazon has called for its review. Meanwhile, the Competition Commission of India has approved the transaction between Future Group and Reliance.