Foreign investors into India have often found that when they seek to enforce customary contractual rights in investment agreements, such as option rights, guarantees and indemnities, they have been hamstrung by the ability of the Indian counterparty to contend that such rights are in contravention of the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA) and the regulations issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

It is in this context that the recent Delhi High Court judgment in the case of Cruz City I Mauritius Holdings v. Unitech Limited, MANU/DE/0965/2017, is relevant, in that it categorically strikes down the defence that an arbitral award is not enforceable on the ground that certain provisions of the contract pursuant to which the award was issued were allegedly in contravention of the FEMA regulations.

Cruz City 1 Mauritius Holdings (Cruz City) filed a petition in the Delhi High Court for enforcement of an arbitral award rendered under the rules of the London Court of International Arbitration (Award). This required Unitech Limited (Unitech) and Burley Holding Limited (Burley), a wholly owned subsidiary of Unitech, to pay Cruz City the pre-determined purchase price of all of Cruz City’s equity shares in a joint venture (incorporated in Mauritius) pursuant to:

  1. A “put option” exercised by Cruz City against Burley.
  2. A keepwell agreement (which was in the nature of a guarantee) whereby Unitech was to make the necessary financial contribution in Burley to enable it to meet its obligations.

Continue Reading Alleged Violation of FEMA now a Dwindling Defence against Enforcement of Contractual Rights

In this day and age of scams, crime by corporate entities throws a lot of challenges at multiple levels. The level of crime may be extraordinary owing to the magnitude, powers and reach of such corporations as opposed to an individual committing any crime. Once it is found that a corporation has committed a crime, the next question is whether corporations can be held guilty of such crimes since they do not have minds of their own.

For a long time, corporations in India were not held liable for criminal offences due to the requirement of mens rea or the intention to commit the offence and inability to award imprisonment or arrest, etc. However, corporations are no longer immune.

Supreme Court on Liability of Corporations and its Officials

The law on this aspect has evolved over time. Now, a corporation can be convicted of offences involving mens rea by applying the doctrine of attribution[1]. Thus, the corporation can be held responsible for offences committed in relation to the business of the corporation by the persons in control of its affairs. The legal position in the US and UK has also crystallised to ensure a corporation can be held liable for crimes of intent. In the UK, the courts have adopted the doctrine of attribution to the corporation liable for acts committed by the directing mind, i.e., the directors and managers.

Continue Reading Criminal Liability of Corporate Officials in India

Over the years, companies have used employee stock option schemes (ESOP Schemes) as an effective method to align employee interests with shareholders, reward their efforts, increase their loyalty towards the company and motivate employees to perform better.

An initial public offering (IPO) and consequent listing of equity shares is one of the critical ways in which employees seek value appreciation in stock options and equity shares held by them. Accordingly, unlisted companies typically align timing of exercise of options under ESOP Schemes with their plans to undertake an IPO.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Issue of Capital and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2009, as amended (SEBI ICDR Regulations), which regulates IPOs, provides exceptions for ESOPs from certain eligibility conditions to be fulfilled by the issuer undertaking the IPO as well as transfer restrictions on equity shares applicable after the completion of the IPO.

However, issuers have faced challenges in the past with respect to eligibility conditions if the options have remained outstanding with individuals who have ceased to be an employee of the issuer.

Further, issuers are being increasingly questioned by such former employees, who continue to hold shares in the issuer but are not offered lock-in exemptions available to existing employees. Additional basis to these concerns is that former employees are treated beneficially under the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Share Based Employee Benefits) Regulations, 2014 (ESOP Regulations) and the Companies Act, 2013 and similar benefits have not been recognised under the SEBI ICDR Regulations.

Continue Reading Survival of Employee Stock Options through the IPO process: Are former employees stranded?

Do We Really Need the “Approval” Route?

The announcement in the Budget Speech that the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) is going to be wound down in 2017-18, has led to speculation amongst consultants, lawyers, foreign investors and the media as to what will take its place. After all, the FIPB, an institution that has been around for more than two decades, epitomises, inter alia, the “government approval” route for foreign investment in sensitive sectors and has been the bedrock of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Policy. It has been the “go-to” body for approvals, clarifications, waivers of conditions and post facto approvals of transgressions, etc.

After successive liberalisations, the “approval route “ now accounts for only 10% or so of the FDI inflows and, therefore, the real question to ask should not be as to how or which agency(ies) will give the required approval for FDI in the sensitive sectors, but whether approval is required at all. Following from my earlier blog piece on “FIPB – The Sunset Year”, I would like to make the case that in the sectors, currently still under the FIPB route as per the contours of the FDI policy, an FDI approval per se is not required at all.

FDI Approval an Additional Layer

First, it may be observed that in the approval route sectors, the FIPB approval forms only one layer of approval, even though the FIPB process is indeed “single window” (in the sense that it brings all the stakeholders to the table). There is another very vital approval required from the administrative ministry, the regulator or the licensor concerned, which gives the operating license/approval. This includes the allocation of the resource (spectrum/ airwaves/mine etc.) as per the laid down procedures. This is true for all the extant FIPB mandated sectors viz. mining, telecom, defence, media, etc, except single brand and multi-brand trading (this has been discussed later). The policy also prescribes follow-on FIPB approvals for changes in ownership, additional capital etc in these “licensed sectors”. The need for engagement by two separate government layers is clearly debatable.

Foreign Ownership is Not a Concern

Second, also as a result of the periodic liberalisation of the FDI Policy, the sectoral cap in nearly all the approval route sectors has gone up progressively along the usual pattern of 26% to 49% to 51% over the years and now stands at 74% or even 100%[1] in some cases. This clearly implies that in respect of these sectors, where the FDI sectoral cap is at 51% or above, there are no real concerns as regards to foreign ownership and control of entities from a sectoral perspective. In such a situation, therefore, the exact percentage of foreign investment in an entity becomes merely a matter of record, rather than one requiring a formal approval from a high powered government inter-ministerial body.

Continue Reading FIPB – The Rites of Passage

The Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has, over the years, undertaken initiatives to align reporting and disclosure requirements for listed companies in India with global standards, including alignment with the principles prescribed by the International Organization of Securities Commissions. On February 6, 2017, SEBI issued a circular on Integrated Reporting by Listed Entities (SEBI Circular) to strengthen disclosure standards of listed Indian companies.

What is Integrated Reporting?

Integrated reporting is a principle-based reporting framework that was developed by the IIRC. Companies in various countries globally including Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia have adopted integrated reporting.

The primary purpose of an Integrated Report is to provide stakeholders with details in relation to the following: (i) functioning of an organisation; (ii) the value created by an organisation over time; and (iii) various external factors that affect the organisation. The Framework sets out certain fundamental concepts and guiding principles that should be considered while preparing an Integrated Report.

Continue Reading Streamlining Reporting Standards

The Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Act, 1985 (SICA) was enacted to make special provisions for the timely detection of sick (and potentially sick) companies owning industrial undertakings. The Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) was formed under the SICA to determine the sickness of such industrial companies and to prescribe measures either for the revival of potentially viable units or the closure of unviable companies.

With effect from December 1, 2016, the SICA has been repealed by the Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Repeal Act, 2003 (“Repeal Act”). This has resulted in the dissolution of the BIFR and other bodies formed under the SICA.[1] Continue Reading Repeal of Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Act, 1985

On December 7, 2016, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) notified and brought into operation a significant chunk of sections under the Companies Act, 2013, including provisions relating to compromises, arrangements, reconstructions, mergers and amalgamations, with effect from December 15, 2016 (the Notification). This marks a paradigm shift in the corporate restructuring process, which is all set to undergo a transition from the earlier restructuring processes under the aegis of the High Courts, to National Company Law Tribunals (NCLTs), constituted with effect from June 1, 2016.

The MCA notified the Companies (Removal of Difficulties) Fourth Order, 2016, and the Companies (Transfer of Proceedings), Rules, 2016, on the same date as the Notification, clarifying that proceedings relating to schemes will stand transferred, forthwith, except where orders have been reserved. While applicants with final hearings on or before December 14, 2016, who were expecting orders to be reserved, heaved a sigh of relief, other applicants were caught in a limbo, while prospective applicants were left to surmise, and gear up for implementation of the new provisions, yet to be tested by NCLTs. The Notification was soon followed, on December 14, 2016, by the Companies (Compromises, Arrangements and Amalgamations) Rules, 2016, on sanction of schemes by NCLTs. Continue Reading National Company Law Tribunal: In the Scheme of Things

The question of the enforceability of contractual restrictions on transfer of shares of Indian public limited companies (Companies) has been the subject matter of various decisions by Indian courts. The Indian legislature has also examined this aspect, which has resulted in a change in the relevant legislation. Through this post, we examine the position as it stands today.

The debate on the enforceability of shareholder agreements and joint venture agreements governing Companies garnered significant attention in early 2010 when a single judge of the Bombay High Court (Bombay HC) set aside an arbitral award in a 2010 decision in Western Maharashtra Development Corporation Ltd. v. Bajaj Auto Ltd. The judgment indicated that the shares of a Company could not be fettered, were freely transferable and as such, any restriction on free transferability would be a violation of section 111A of the erstwhile Companies Act, 1956 (1956 Act).

Continue Reading Enforceability of Contractual Restrictions on Transfer of Shares