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

The row between e-commerce giant Amazon and Indian brick-and-mortar retailer Future Group, which plans to sell a major chunk of its assets to Reliance Group, has turned into a court battle.

In the latest development, Future Retail has filed an appeal in the Delhi High Court against its earlier order blocking its 250-billion rupee (US$3.4 billion) deal with Reliance. The court had on Tuesday directed Future Retail to maintain the status quo in relation to its Reliance deal following objections raised by Amazon. The deal included the sale of Future Group’s supermarket chain Big Bazaar, premium food supply unit Foodhall and fashion and clothes supermart Brand Factory’s retail and wholesale units.

In a regulatory filing the Indian retailer said, “The company has filed an appeal before High Court of Delhi against the impugned order dated February 2.”

Amazon had acquired a 49% stake in Future Coupons in 2019 and by virtue of it obtained a small stake in Future Retail. This deal gave Amazon 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.

After the Future Retail entered into a deal with Reliance Retail in August last year, Amazon had approached the Singapore International Arbitration Centre alleging that it breached their 2019 agreement. The Singapore 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.

The Future Group had then filed a plea with the Delhi High Court. On December 21, a single-member bench rejected the plea to restrain Amazon from writing to regulatory authorities about the Singapore court arbitral order but gave a go-ahead to the Indian regulators to decide over the deal.

Future Retail’s planned deal got an approval from antitrust watchdog Competition Commission of India and no objection from stock market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India. It had on January 26 approached National Company Law Tribunal and the application is yet to be taken up.

Amazon approached the Delhi High Court last month seeking enforcement of the interim order of the Emergency Arbitrator of the Singapore court. The court heard the matter for four consecutive days and reserved its order on the main petition. However it directed all concerned authorities who were involved in reviewing the Future-Reliance to maintain the status quo.

Last year, Future Group had faced a severe cash crunch as it had to keep its over 1,700 outlets shut for months after the Indian government announced a countrywide lockdown on March 25 to fight Covid-19 pandemic. The group’s founder and CEO, Kishore Biyani, had earlier claimed that the company approached Amazon eight times seeking help, but the e-commerce giant did not oblige. Amazon denied the claim and said it had held discussions with partners and the promoters of Future Group to find a solution.

The US e-commerce giant is keen to block the deal as it will give Reliance an unparalleled edge over rivals. Reliance is already the country’s biggest brick-and-mortar retailer and has made ambitious plans for its e-commerce venture JioMart.