India’s richest man to battle Amazon, Walmart in e-commerce

Mukesh Ambani, above, richest man in Asia, plans to expand his oil-to-commerce business to include e-commerce too. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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India’s richest man to battle Amazon, Walmart in e-commerce

  • The businessman plans to start his e-commerce business in Gujarat and then expand into the rest of India
  • He says his new e-commerce platform will help enrich small retailers and shopkeepers in Gujart

MUMBAi: Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani announced details of a new online shopping platform Friday that will see his oil-to-telecoms conglomerate take on Amazon and Walmart in India’s burgeoning e-commerce market.
Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, said the company’s telecoms and consumer businesses planned to roll out the venture in the western state of Gujarat before expanding across India.
“Jio and Reliance Retail will launch a unique new commerce platform to empower and enrich our 12 lakh (1.2 million) small retailers and shopkeepers in Gujarat,” Ambani told a summit attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Ambani, 61, has been drip-feeding his e-commerce plans for India over the past few months in announcements that are no doubt being keenly watched by US giants Amazon and Walmart.
Reliance shook up India’s telecoms market in September 2016 when it launched its 4G Jio network with free voice calls for life and vastly cheaper data.
The launch sent the profits of other mobile players spiralling downwards and sparked consolidation across the industry as rivals scrambled to match Reliance’s deep pockets.
Amazon and leading Indian e-tailer Flipkart, which was bought by Walmart for $16 billion last year, have been expanding aggressively to gain a bigger slice of India’s growing online customers.
They have incurred huge losses along the way, however, and analysts say that Reliance’s entry into the e-commerce sphere will make their jobs even harder.
India’s e-commerce sales are expected to triple between now and 2022, when they are likely to pass the $100 billion mark, according to recent research by industry body NASSCOM and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The rise is being fuelled by greater smartphone penetration, in part thanks to Jio, and a rising middle class with more disposable income.


Russian court jails US investor pending fraud trial

Updated 52 min 29 sec ago
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Russian court jails US investor pending fraud trial

MOSCOW: A Russian court on Saturday jailed the US founder of a major investment firm for two months over fraud charges he says were fabricated for use in a shareholder battle.
Michael Calvey, founder of the multi-billion-dollar investment fund Baring Vostok Capital Partners (BVCP), was placed under arrest until April 13 as he and five others await trial on charges they embezzled 2.5 billion rubles ($37.7 million).
Authorities detained four BVCP employees on Friday, including French national Phillipe Delpal.
Two other suspects include a former fund employee and someone at another firm mentioned in the probe. All six are now under pre-trial arrest.
In a statement Saturday, Baring Vostok said the claims made against its employees “have no merit.”
The case has already drawn comparisons to other high-profile probes against foreign investors in Russia, notably one against Bill Browder and the Hermitage Capital fund.
Ironically, it comes as Russia hosts a high-profile investment forum in its Black Sea city Sochi.
Calvey says he is innocent and argued in court that the probe is a bid to exert pressure on him amid a shareholder conflict within Vostochniy Bank, which he is trying to resolve in a London arbitration court.
The charges against him are intended to “pressure Baring Vostok to drop its arbitration claims in London or to obstruct the new share emission of Vostochniy Bank,” Calvey alleged according to a statement by Baring Vostok on Saturday.
Investigators say that a firm controlled by Calvey in 2017 owed 2.5 billion rubles to Vostochniy bank and paid the debt with a 59.9 percent stake in the Luxembourg company International Financial Technology Group (IFTG), which was valued at three billion rubles.
The investigators claim that IFTG’s real value was only 600,000 rubles.
The fraud claim against Calvey was filed with the FSB security service this month by Sherzod Yusupov, a minority shareholder in Vostochniy Bank, Russian agencies reported.
Baring Vostok controls more than 52 percent of Vostochniy Bank, while 32 percent is owned by Artyom Avetisyan, Russian reports said.
Calvey said in court that he and Avetisyan are tangled in a shareholder dispute, and that by filing the claim Yusupov was in fact acting on Avetisyan’s behalf.
BVCP is a veteran investor in Russia, with current and past projects that include the Internet company Yandex, online retailer Ozon.ru, several drugstore and food store chains, and Russia’s leading online classifieds service Avito.
Some Russian officials have supported Calvey, with Rosnano board chairman Anatoly Chubais calling him “one of the most respected investors” whose efforts “attracted about four billion dollars in foreign direct investment to Russia.”