Reliance Communications agreed to pay Rs 550 crore to Ericsson to settle an eight-month legal dispute over dues, paving the way for the Anil Ambani-controlled telecom company to exit bankruptcy proceedings and sell assets to Reliance Jio Infocomm and Brookfield to repay lenders.
Both parties presented the settlement details to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal on Wednesday, after which the two-member bench chaired by Justice SJ Mukhopadhaya halted the insolvency proceedings ordered by the National Company Law Tribunal against RCom and its units Reliance Telecom and Reliance Infratel.
The Swedish telecom equipment maker had petitioned the NCLT to initiate bankruptcy proceedings in a bid to recover over Rs 1,000 crore from the companies. RCom, backed by lenders State Bank of India and China Development Bank, appealed against the order in the NCLAT.
The appellate tribunal directed the chairman/managing director of RCom to file an undertaking within a couple of days to pay Rs 550 crore by September 30.
At the next hearing on October 4, Ericsson will confirm if it has received the amount. If RCom fails to make the payment, the sale of its assets or the money recovered by the banks will be reversed and insolvency proceedings will begin again.
The NCLAT directed the interim resolution professionals to hand over the reins of the companies back to their management with instructions that any failure to carry out the undertakings will mean they get access to the offices again. RCom said in a statement Wednesday that the board of directors of all three companies have been reinstated.
The developments of the day, combined with a Rs 232 crore settlement reached Tuesday by Reliance Infratel with its minority shareholders including HSBC Daisy Investments, clear the path for RCom to sell its wireless assets to Jio to pare debt of Rs 46,000 crore.
The company’s shares gained 9.7% to Rs 17.50 at the close on the BSE. Late Wednesday, the company, which shut its wireless operations in December under competitive pressure, said its net loss for the January-March quarter widened to Rs 19,827 crore from Rs 1122 crore a year ago, hurt by a provision of Rs 21,255 crore for impairment of assets related to its closed business. Revenue fell to Rs 976 crore from Rs 1,625 crore a year bac.
RCom further said it expects to complete the sale of its assets for a total of Rs 18,100 crore to Jio and Brookfield within the next few weeks, proceeds of which will go towards reducing debt by Rs 25,000 crore in the first phase of asset monetisation.
People aware of the deal said Jio will buy 122 MHz of spectrum, fibre network, telecom towers and nodes, while Brookfield will purchase real estate in New Delhi and Chennai for about Rs 800 crore.
Sources added that Jio will take on deferred spectrum liabilities – to be paid to the government – and other dues worth around Rs 8,000 crore.
Additionally, RCom is expected to sign another deal within a few days to sell its remaining 66 MHz spectrum to Jio for about Rs 3,700 crore, which will further trim its debt. Emails to RCom and Reliance Jio about the spectrums sale did not elicit responses as of Wednesday evening.
While the settlement was a big climb down for the Swedish telecom equipment maker, which had sought Rs 978 crore, people familiar with the negotiations said Ericsson decided it would be better than getting nothing from the financially stricken company.
The negotiations on Wednesday started at Rs 700 crore and went down to Rs 600 crore, which RCom declined to pay. RCom then proposed a settlement of Rs 550 crore and Ericsson was given a 15-minute break to discuss the offer. The appellate tribunal met at 3.45 pm and Ericsson agreed to the Rs 550 crore offered by RCom, drawing the curtains on the long legal saga.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal and Agarwal Law Associates appeared for RCom, while Ericsson was represented by senior advocate Salman Khurshid, senior counsel Anil Kher and senior advocate Arun Kathpalia.
A day earlier, RCom’s tower unit Reliance Infratel sealed a pact with its minority shareholders by agreeing to pay up Rs 232 crore.
The minority shareholders, including HSBC Daisy, alleged they were being oppressed and that their consent for the sale of assets was not taken. Reliance Infratel is supposed to pay up once RCom’s dispute with Ericsson is resolved and the telco exits the insolvency, or debt resolution, proceedings.