Indian billionaire told to pay debt to Ericsson - or go to jail

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The court was ruling on Ericsson's contempt plea against RCom and its chairman Anil Ambani for "wilful disobedience" of the court's earlier orders to pay dues of ₹550 crore to the Swedish telecom equipment maker. SC also imposed a fine of Rs 1 cr each on them, if not deposited within a month, 1-month jail will be awarded. The top court also told him to be prepared to go to jail if he failed to clear the dues of Rs 453 crore within the next four weeks.

The Supreme Court had on 30 November cleared spectrum sale by RCom to elder brother Mukesh Ambani's Jio on condition that the seller furnishes ₹1,400 crore as corporate guarantee to the government within two days.

Earlier this year, Reliance Communications said it had made a decision to start insolvency proceedings after failing to sell assets to pay back lenders. The court directed this amount to be released immediately. Some 1 billion rupees have already been deposited with the court, which said the sum will be handed to Ericsson. The money would be paid over to the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee.

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It said "conditional" undertakings given by the three chairpersons on August 9, 2018, to the apex court to pay the ₹550 crore amounted to "misdemeanour".

The apex court specified that any unconditional apology given by Reliance needs to be rejected as they have breached the undertaking and order. The Supreme Court then gave RCom another three months, and said the Anil Ambani-led firm had to pay by December 15, 2018.

The contempt finding came on a plea filed by Ericcson India which has accused Ambani of not clearing dues of Rs 550 crore.

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In 2014, Ericsson India had signed a seven-year deal to operate and manage RCom's nationwide telecom network.

Reacting to the verdict, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi who appeared for Anil Ambani said that, "we respect the Supreme Court verdict, I am sure RComm will honour directions".

On 23 October past year, the top court had asked RCom to clear the dues by 15 December, 2018, stating that delayed payment would attract interest of 12 percent per annum. Their action was contrary to earlier unconditional undertakings given by authorised persons of the three companies to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) in May previous year.

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