Ambani brothers in legal showdown

October 20, 2009 12:00 am

, NEW DELHI, Oct 20 – India’s billionaire Ambani brothers were set to square off in India’s highest court later Tuesday in a bitter showdown that has riveted nation.

The two have drafted India’s top lawyers to argue a case over gas supplies that pits India’s biggest private sector company Reliance Industries Ltd, led by Mukesh Ambani, against Reliance Natural Resources Ltd, headed by Anil.

A Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan is due to hear the case in which billions of dollars are at stake.

The row stems from a family pact splitting the Reliance assets after the 2002 death of their father Dhirubhai, who built a corporate colossus that straddled India’s economy from telecommunications to energy.

The case was expected to get underway in the Supreme Court at around 0830 GMT.

Anil is demanding the honouring of a 2005 settlement brokered by their mother that would allow Reliance Natural Resources to buy gas from Reliance Industries at 44 percent below the government-set rate.

Mukesh, India’s richest man, insists the 17-year deal needed government approval and that the government price — set after the family settlement was agreed — must prevail.
A lower court upheld Anil’s arguments and Mukesh appealed to the Supreme Court.

Anil made a failed bid this month to patch things up with his brother, with whom he has had a series of disputes earlier over issues including a proposed blockbuster telecom deal last year that Mukesh tried to block.

But Mukesh rebuffed his overtures, saying the issues needed to be settled by the court and the dispute was "not merely a family matter" but one that involved Reliance Industries’ shareholders.

The government has intervened in the case, asserting its right to set gas prices. It argues that the gas from the Krishna-Godavari Basin, India’s largest gas find, belongs to the nation and cannot be sold at cut-rate prices.


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