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Volunteer for inquiry: SC refuses to stop CCI probe against Amazon, Flipkart

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The Supreme Court on Monday declined to entertain a plea by e-commerce giants Amazon and Flipkart, saying they must face inquiry by Competition Commission of India (CCI) for anti-competitive practices.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising justices Vineet Saran and Surya Kant said: “Big organizations like you ( Flipkart and Amazon) should volunteer for inquiry… Inquiry has to be conducted.”

The bench declined to interfere with the orders of the Karnataka High Court, which refused to interfere with the preliminary enquiry ordered by the CCI into their alleged anti-competitive practices.

The top court emphasized that the CCI inquiry must go on. However, the court accepted the request made by senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi for extending the time for the companies to reply to CCI. The e-commerce companies had moved the apex court challenging the Karnataka High Court order.

The bench said it sees no reason to interfere in the high court order, and seeing that time granted is expiring on 9 August, “we extend it by 4 weeks”.

On July 23, the Karnataka High Court dismissed the plea by Amazon and Flipkart against a probe initiated by CCI for the alleged violation of competition law.

A division bench comprising justices Satish Chandra Sharma and Natraj Rangaswamy passed the order on a batch of appeals moved by the e-commerce companies challenging a June 11 order passed by a single judge of the high court.

The bench noted that by no stretch of imagination the inquiry can be quashed at this stage and the appellants shouldn’t be afraid of investigation by CCI. The bench said: “In the considered opinion of the court, appeals filed by appellants are devoid of merit and deserved to be dismissed…”

Amazon had moved Karnataka High Court against a CCI order which had called for a director general (DG) level investigation into allegations of anti-competitive conduct in the online sale of smartphones on its platform.

The Delhi Vyapar Mahasangh (DVM), the informant before the CCI, had alleged predatory pricing, deep discounting, preferential seller listing, and exclusive partnerships, among others, against Amazon and Flipkart.

Business

IBM sells its Watson healthcare assets to Francisco Partners

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IBM has announced to sell healthcare data and analytics assets from the company (currently part of the IBM Watson Health business) to Francisco Partners, a leading global investment firm.

Although financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed but previous reports pegged the value at around $1 billion.

The assets acquired by Francisco Partners include extensive and diverse data sets and products, including Health Insights, MarketScan, Clinical Development, Social Program Management, Micromedex, and imaging software offerings.

The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of this year, IBM said in a statement late on Friday.

“The agreement with Francisco Partners is a clear next step as IBM becomes even more focused on our platform-based hybrid cloud and AI strategy,” said Tom Rosamilia, Senior Vice President, IBM Software.

“IBM remains committed to Watson, our broader AI business, and to the clients and partners we support in healthcare IT.”

Watson was one of IBM’s highest-profile initiatives in recent years and a big bet on the growing healthcare sector.

IBM currently has a market value of $108 billion, way behind its Cloud-computing rivals like Amazon and Microsoft.

In its fourth quarter, cognitive applications revenue, which includes Watson Health, came to $1.5 billion, a decrease of 2 per cent year over year.

IBM Watson was one of the “strategic imperatives” under former CEO Ginni Rometty.

“We have followed IBM’s journey in healthcare data and analytics for a number of years and have a deep appreciation for its portfolio of innovative healthcare products,” said Ezra Perlman, Co-President at Francisco Partners.

Under the terms of the agreement, the current management team will continue in similar roles in the new standalone company, serving existing clients in life sciences, provider, imaging, payer and employer, and government health and human services sectors.

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Confirm willingness to fund debt owned to lenders: FRL independent directors to Amazon

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 Future Retail’s independent directors have asked e-commerce giant Amazon if it is willing to fund Rs 3,500 crore to repay the retail company’s lenders.

Notably, the question to Amazon was posted after the e-commerce giant in an earlier letter to independent directors objected to the sale of Future Retail Ltd (FRL)’s small-format stores.

“FRL is in need for cash infusion urgently in order to repay its lenders. FRL is required to pay its lenders Rs 3,500 crore by January 29, failing which it will be classified as an NPA,” said the letter dated January 21.

“Since you are objecting to the sale of small-format sales, the proceeds of which were to be used to repay lenders and thereby avoid NPA classification, please confirm that you are willing to fund this amount by Monday through an unsecured, long-term loan, subordinated to FRL’s existing lenders or any other mutually suitable and legally acceptable structure.”

Besides, the letter to e-commerce giant said, “If you do so, FRL will use such funds in order to repay FRL’s existing lenders. Alternatively, you are also free to engage with the lenders so that we do not fall foul of our OTR process or obligations.”

Accordingly, the independent directors asked the e-commerce giant to provide the confirmations for such funds by January 22, 2022.

“Once you have provided these confirmations in writing and agree to infuse Rs 3,500 crore in order to repay FRL’s lenders by January 29, 2022, we would be happy to assess a detailed proposal and meet Amazon India Head Abhijeet Muzumdar.”

Furthermore, the letter asked Amazon, “Coming to the specific aspects of your proposal — we note that your letter refers to a potential transaction between Samara Capital and FRL as a ‘solution’.”

“In this regard, you are requested to confirm if Amazon can act on behalf of Samara Capital and has the authority to negotiate and finalise such transaction on its behalf.”

It asked Amazon to confirm the structure for the proposed transaction, and that the Manager of Samara Capital is owned-and-controlled by resident Indians.

“As you know, FRL is in the multi-brand retail sector and FDI in this sector is restricted. You are also aware that Amazon’s transaction in Future Coupons, has resulted in regulatory scrutiny, including by the Competition Commission of India, as well as enquiries by the Enforcement Directorate.”

“It is therefore critical that any investment being proposed is in compliance with all applicable laws, including FDI laws, CCI regulations and SEBI regulations, and that any such transaction should not raise further regulatory scrutiny.”

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Vodafone Idea’s net losses widen YoY in Q3FY22, ARPU improves sequentially

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Telecom service provider Vodafone Idea’s net losses widened year-on-year to Rs 7,230 crore during the Q3FY22.

In the same quarter last fiscal, it was Rs 4,532 crore. In Q2FY22, it was Rs 7,132 crore.

Revenue from operations during the quarter declined to Rs 9,717 from Rs 10,894 crore in the same period in the corresponding fiscal.

However, Average Revenue Per User during the quarter stood at Rs 115, as against Rs 109 in Q2FY22, an increase of 5.2 per cent quarter-on-quarter.

“We remain focused on executing our strategy to improve our competitive position and win in the marketplace. Separately, we have opted for upfront conversion of interest arising from deferment of spectrum and AGR dues into equity,” MD and CEO Ravinder Takkar said.

“Revenue for the quarter was Rs 97.2 billion, a quarter-on-quarter improvement of 3.3 per cent, aided by several tariff interventions including the recent tariff hikes taken by all operators in November 2021.”

The telecom company continued to invest in 4G to increase its coverage and capacity, it said in a statement.

“During the quarter, we added 4,000 4G FDD sites primarily through refarming of 2G/3G spectrum to expand our 4G coverage and capacity as well as continued to upgrade our core and transmission network,” the company said.

In late November 2021, Vofafone Idea, along with Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, raised tariffs on prepaid customers by around 20 per cent.

The upward revision in tariffs helped Vodafone Idea in increasing its ARPU by five per cent in Q3FY22, it said.

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