A deal between brothers Anil Ambani of Reliance Group and Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries fell through and now Anil not only faces arrest if he doesn’t pay off dues to Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson in a month but also has little hope of escaping bankruptcy.
And the reason why the deal fell through is the refusal of the elder brother, Mukesh, to step up and bail his younger brother out. The senior Ambani had reservations on bearing guarantee for his younger brother’s past debts.
Anil’s debt-ridden RCom, which was being pursued by lenders, had an asset monetisation plan that could help it pare down its debt by Rs 18,000 crore. At the heart of this plan was the deal to sell RComNSE 10.43 %’s spectrum assets to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio.
The Supreme Court has observed that reason behind the spectrum sale deal falling through is not Department of Telecom’s (DoT) refusal but elder brother Mukesh’s reluctance to bear guarantee for past debts of the younger brother. The SC yesterday held RCom chairman Anil Ambani in contempt for not paying Ericsson’s dues worth Rs 550 crore despite having the money to do so, threatening to send the businessman to jail for three months if he didn’t cough up what was owed in four weeks.
The SC has said it had done the best it could to help the deal fructify.
The SC had directed DoT to approve RCom’s pact to sell spectrum to Jio after accepting a Rs 1,400 crore-corporate guarantee, instead of a bank guarantee, as well as a parcel of land from an RCom subsidiary to cover for the spectrum user charge (SUC) claim of Rs 2,947 crore, which the Anil Ambani-owned company was disputing.
However, Jio sent a letter to DoT seeking assurance from the government that it won’t be held liable for RCom’s past dues, prompting the department to can any plans of agreeing to the sale, on grounds that both buyer and seller have to agree to take care of previous dues of the seller.
Meetings between the three parties did not break the stalemate and RCom in many court hearings blamed DoT for creating barriers in its asset sale and thereby, preventing the telco from paying its lenders and creditors.
“The sale of spectrum to Reliance Jio, therefore, did not fructify, not because the DoT wrongfully refused to give its NOC, as has been alleged by the Reliance Companies in their pleadings filed in this case. It fell through only because the prospective buyer, Reliance Jio, refused to give the undertaking that if called upon, it would pay the erstwhile debts of the seller of the spectrum,” observed the apex court.
Disruption of telecom sector by Mukesh’s Reliance Jio was one reason behind the decline of Anil’s RCom. Now Mukesh’s reluctance to bail out Anil has sealed the fate of Reliance Group.
How the Ericsson-Reliance Communications saga unfolded
- January 25, 2013-Ericsson and RCom entered into an agreement whereby Ericsson agreed to provide RCom managed services
- May 7,2017-Ericsson issued notices to Rcom& units on non-payment under Insolvency Code
- September 7,2017–Ericsson terminated agreement with Rcom
- September 8, 2017 – Ericsson moves insolvency petition in NCLT against RCom, seeks dues worth over Rs 1500 crore
- May 15,2018 – NCLT admits insolvency petition against RCom
- RCom appeals order in NCLAT; settlement talks between 2 firms start
- May 30, 2018 – NCLAT orders RCom to pay Ericsson Rs 550 cr by Sept 30 under settlement pact
- Undertaking given by Rcom chairman that payment deadline will be adhered to
- RCom moves SC, seeking quashing of insolvency proceedings in NCLT
- SC directs that RCom should pay Ericsson by Sept. 30 deadline
- RCom moves SC/NCLAT, seeking 60-day extension to payment deadline, misses Sept. 30 deadline
- Oct. 1, 2018 – Ericsson files contempt of court against RCom chairman Anil Ambani in SC
- RCom says dues will be paid once asset sale to Jio, Brookfield happen
- October 23, 2018 – SC gives RCom till December 15 to pay Ericsson
- RCom misses the second deadline, seeks extension, SC rejects
- January 20, 2019 – Ericsson files 2nd contempt petition against Anil Ambani
- January – SC serves contempt notice to Ambani, directs him to appear in court
- January 21- RCom offers to pay Ericsson if it withdraws petition against Ambani; Ericsson refuses
- February 1, RCom moves bankruptcy court
- February 20 – SC holds Anil Ambani guilty of contempt of court, directs telco to pay dues in 4 weeks, else faces jail for 3 months