A UK court on Friday directed Reliance Group chairman Anil Ambani to pay $100 million towards a conditional order granted to three Chinese banks pursuing the recovery of over $680 million owed to them as part of a loan agreement.
In what is in effect a deposit to be paid into court pending a full trial in the case, Judge David Waksman has set a six-week timeline for such a payment to be made as he concluded that he did not accept Ambani’s defence that his net worth was nearly zero or that his family would not step in to assist him when push came to shove.
“In my overall conclusion, Mr Ambani has not satisfied me that he can’t make any payment at all,” said Judge Waksman, as he expressed particular criticism of a lack of honesty and transparency on the part of Ambani’s defence in reference to his financial means.
The Reliance Group indicated that it plans to appeal against the ruling, which will involve a process of seeking permission to appeal.
“Mr Ambani is reviewing the order of the UK Court and will take legal advice as to further remedies in appeal,” a spokesperson for Anil Ambani said.
The banks Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd Mumbai Branch, on behalf of itself, China Development Bank and Exim Bank of China, welcomed the order and said they remain confident of their claim succeeding at trial.
“This is a straightforward debt claim to recover outstanding loans made to RCom (Reliance Communications) in good faith and secured by a binding personal guarantee given by Mr Ambani, which he has refused to honour,” a statement on behalf of the banks said.
“We remain very confident in our claim. We hope that Mr Ambani will comply with the court’s order and look forward to the swift resolution of the case at trial,” the statement said.
Another senior Reliance Group official added that based on the legal advice, the RCom chief intends to seek further remedies in appeal and is confident that he will have the opportunity to establish that the Chinese claim is without any merit.
Earlier, during a half-day hearing, the court was told that Reliance Group chairman Anil Ambani was a wealthy businessman and now he is not as a result of a “disastrous turn of events” in the telecom market in India.
The Chinese banks had sought summary judgment against Ambani over an alleged breach of a personal guarantee on a debt refinancing loan of around $925 million in February 2012.
Ambani, 60, denies providing authority for any such guarantee, resulting in the High Court action in the UK, the jurisdiction agreed to as part of the terms of the loan agreement.
At the hearing at the Commercial Division of the High Court of England and Wales in London to set the terms for the “conditional order” granted to three Chinese banks last year against the Reliance Communications (RCom) boss, his legal team sought to establish that his net worth was zero once his liabilities were taken into account.
The banks’ counsel called Ambani’s claims into question and repeatedly referred to his “lavish lifestyle”.
Ambani’s legal team, including leading Indian lawyer Harish Salve, responded in the negative, followed by a brief reference in court to India’s Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) only recently coming into play.
The banks, represented in court by barrister Bankim Thanki, sought to establish that Ambani had been “at best economical with the truth” in his evidence statements to the court in relation to his financial means.
They also pointed to a series of instances where Ambani family members had stepped in to bail him out, even as Ambani’s defence sought to establish that their client had no access to the assets and shares under the name of his mother Kokila, wife Tina Ambani and sons Anmol and Anshul in the form of loans.