Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) on Sunday termed as “premature" the Union government’s attempt to enforce non-payment of $4.5 billion in an international arbitral award of the Panna-Mukta and Tapti (PMT) production-sharing contracts case.
On Friday, the Delhi high court ordered RIL and BG Exploration and Production India Ltd (BG), a unit of Shell India, to disclose their assets after the Centre sought to restrain them from disposing of the same. RIL has recently announced plans to sell a 20% stake in its refining and petrochemicals business to Saudi Aramco.
In an emailed response to queries, a spokesperson for RIL on Saturday said that in October 2016, the arbitration tribunal issued a partial award to the Indian government in an arbitration case with BG & RIL regarding the Panna-Mukta and Tapti production sharing contracts (PSC).
However, it did not announce any monetary award. “Quantification of amounts, if any, by the Tribunal is to be done when all issues have been decided," the spokesperson said.
RIL and BG had challenged certain parts of the 2016 award before a UK court, which decided in their favour and directed the tribunal to reconsider the 2016 Award.
The tribunal, on reconsideration, passed another partial award in December 2018, which was in favour of BG/RIL. “2016 Award, in part superseded by 2018 award, cannot be said to have attained finality and attempts to enforce 2016 award are premature," the RIL spokesperson said.
The government, since 2010, has been fighting an arbitration with RIL and its partner, alleging that the companies appropriated huge sums of money in violation of the production sharing contracts in the PMT oil and gas fields. According to the government, RIL and its partner are required to pay $4.5 billion with interest.
RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani had on 12 August announced the company’s plan to sell a 20% stake in its refining and petrochemicals business for $15 billion to Aramco. Aramco, the most profitable company globally, controls the world’s second-largest proven crude reserves of more than 270 billion barrels, and the partnership is expected to help insulate RIL from any future oil shocks and volatility in crude prices. The deal, which values the oil-to-chemicals business at $75 billion, is part of a plan to make RIL a zero-debt company by 2021, Ambani said at the time.
Ambani is aiming to trim RIL’s ballooning debt after spending as much as $50 billion to propel the company’s telecom business to the top position in India within three years of starting operations, surpassing Bharti Airtel Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd.
RIL asserts that while the above appeal was pending in the English court, the Indian government unilaterally calculated certain amounts, based upon its interpretation of the 2016 award, which it alleges are payable by state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC), BG and RIL.
ONGC held 40% stake in the PMT joint venture, while RIL and BG Exploration owned 30% each. RIL and Shell announced on Friday that they will transfer their entire stake in the PMT venture to ONGC effective 21 December.
“Pursuant to 2018 Award, government’s claim comes down very significantly—a fact which GoI (Government of India) has not taken cognisance of and approached the Delhi high court prematurely for enforcement of its claim computed based on its interpretation of 2016 Award. RIL maintains that except as quantified by the tribunal, no amounts can be said to be payable at this stage," the RIL spokesperson said.
The Centre has challenged the 2018 award and the English court is yet to pronounce its judgment.
“Final amounts payable, if any, by the parties—(ONGC 40%) (BG 30%) and (RIL 30%)—can only be determined by the Arbitration Tribunal in the quantification phase of the arbitration which will be scheduled after it has decided on all the issues before it," RIL said.