NEWSMAKER - Mukesh Ambani wins over Anil in Supreme Court

MUMBAI Fri May 7, 2010 9:06pm IST

Reliance Industries Ltd Chairman Mukesh Ambani is seen in Mumbai in this August 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

Reliance Industries Ltd Chairman Mukesh Ambani is seen in Mumbai in this August 2005 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Punit Paranjpe

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MUMBAI (Reuters) - Less than two weeks ago, Mukesh Ambani watched from the stands as his cricket franchise Mumbai Indians lost to the less-fancied Chennai team in the glitzy final of the Indian Premier League tournament.

On Friday, the country's richest man, stayed away from the Supreme Court when it ruled in favour of his firm, Reliance Industries, in a gas pricing dispute with Reliance Natural controlled by billionaire younger brother Anil.

Anil was grim faced as he strode through a wall of reporters outside court, not commenting on the case that he has been loquacious about in the past, accusing the government of taking Mukesh's side in newspaper ads and near-daily conference calls.

But no one expects this to mark the end of their fight.

"This is no way anywhere near the end," said Arun Kejriwal, director at KRIS, a research firm based in Mumbai.

"There is no give and take in this relationship, and relations cannot improve now. If anything, they could worsen from this point. And that can mean more trouble," he said.

Heated discussions about the feud and the brothers' management styles are often the topic of conversation in the corporate world in Mumbai where they live, among political honchos in Delhi and in the wealthy Gujarati community to which they belong.

Mukesh, 53, created Reliance Infocomm, now Reliance Communications, that Anil took over. He also spearheaded textile major Reliance Industries' foray into petrochemicals, refining, and oil and gas exploration and production.

A chemical engineer by training, Mukesh, whose fortune is estimated by Forbes magazine at $29 billion, dropped out of an MBA from Stanford University where he was a classmate of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and joined Reliance in 1981.

The dispute among the brothers hinged on terms in a private deal that was part of the 2005 family settlement brokered by mother Kokilaben, helped by some of India's top bankers. The terms of the deal have not been made public and is believed to cover the entire gamut of businesses.

Government officials and a lower court had previously asked the Ambani brothers to consult their mother to resolve the gas dispute. She is seen often with her sons and daughters-in-law, sitting in Mukesh's shareholders' meetings and going to temples with Anil.

The two brothers were seen together at their mother's birthday party last year, raising hopes of a reconciliation. They briefly shook hands earlier this year at an awards function sparking a media frenzy.

Last year, Anil had, unexpectedly offered to reconcile with Mukesh and resolve differences, but Mukesh's Reliance Industries has argued the row goes beyond a family squabble, suggesting Mukesh is not inclined to sort matters across the dining table.

On Friday, P.M.S. Prasad, Reliance Industries' executive director said: "This is a total vindication of what RIL has been saying all along: that we have to work within the ambit of government policy, that the MoU is not legally binding."

"We are going to try and reach an understanding ... we hope we can reach an agreement," he told reporters.

BOLLYWOOD, MARATHONS

This is not the first time the brothers, sons of legendary businessman Dhirubhai Ambani, have fought over business interests that span oil and gas, retail, telecoms, entertainment, financial services and infrastructure since the settlement in 2005.

Talks between Anil's Reliance Communications and South Africa's MTN Group more than two years ago to create a top-10 global telecoms firm were scuppered by Mukesh's right of first refusal on shares of the Indian mobile firm.

Mukesh has generally kept a low profile in comparison to his younger brother, who was a regular on the Bollywood party circuit with his wife, a former actress. At conferences before the split, it was Anil who made presentations and took questions from reporters, whose names he made a point of remembering.

Mukesh, who said last year he would take a two-thirds pay cut after the prime minister's comments on "vulgar salaries", gifted his wife a private jet on her birthday. He splashed out $1 billion on a 27-storey home into which he is expected to move after years of sharing a home with his brother and mother.

Anil, who has a business degree from Wharton, established the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group which has interests in power, financial services, infrastructure and entertainment.

Anil's Reliance Entertainment has a deal with Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks studio and has signed on actors including George Clooney and Julia Roberts to co-produce films.

Anil is ranked No. 36 on the Forbes wealthy list and is worth about $13.7 billion. A teetotaller, he is a self-confessed fitness fanatic dubbed "Marathon Man" by the media because he runs every morning and is a regular in the annual Mumbai run.

On Friday, he said in a conference call he looked forward to "an expeditious and successful renegotiation" within the stipulated period of six weeks -- another type of marathon.

(Editing by Surojit Gupta and Anshuman Daga)

(For more business news on Reuters Money visit www.reutersmoney.in)

(For Quotes and Interactive Charts of Reliance Industries click here)

(For Quotes and Interactive Charts of Reliance Natural click here)

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