New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday held businessman Anil Ambani and Reliance Communication guilty of contempt for breaching undertakings to clear outstanding dues to Ericsson India.
Ambani and directors of the group companies, however, evaded the jail term since the court said that the contempt can be purged by making clear the dues within four weeks, along with an added interest. He can be jailed for three months if he doesn’t pay Rs 450 crore to Ericsson India within four weeks.
The apex court tore into the Reliance Group chairman for a “cavalier attitude” and fined him and two of his directors Rs 1 crore each.
“Anil Ambani and others breached their undertaking,” the court said, calling it “willful disobedience” of its order that they should repay Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericcson.
In a statement, a Reliance Communication Limited spokesperson said, “We respect the Supreme Court judgement. The RCOM Group shall comply with the same.”
Ericsson India had gone to the Supreme Court against Anil Ambani’s company for not clearing its dues, and had also argued before the court that while the Reliance Group had money to invest in the Rafale jet deal, they were unable to clear Rs 550 crore. The company had however, denied the charge vehemently. The contempt was filed against Anil Ambani, Reliance Telecom chairman Satish Seth and Reliance Infratel chairperson Chhaya Virani.
Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence is one of the offset partners of Dassault, the maker of the Rafale fighter jets for which India and France signed a deal in 2016. The allegation made by the Congress that the government settled for an overpriced deal to help Anil Ambani has been strongly refuted by the government, Reliance and Dassault; even the Supreme Court dismissed calls for an investigation.
Anil Ambani had told the SC that with the failure of an assets sale deal with Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio, his company had entered insolvency proceedings and was not in control of the funds.
Reliance Communications (RCom) had told the court that it had tried to move “heaven and earth” to ensure Ericsson gets its due but was unable to do so because of the failed assets sale deal.
On October 23, 2018, the court had asked RCom to clear its dues by December 15, warning that delayed payment would mean an interest of 12 per cent a year. The plea by Ericsson had sought that the court direct Anil Ambani and the lenders’ forum to hand over the Rs 550 crore with interest.