French court allows Devas to freeze Indian govt property worth 3.8 mn euros in Paris

Devas shareholders who are seeking to enforce a $1.3 billion arbitration award over a cancelled satellite contract with ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix.
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A French court has ordered freezing of an Indian government property in Paris on a plea by Devas shareholders who are seeking to enforce a $1.3 billion arbitration award over a cancelled satellite contract, according to the court order copy. The court allowed Devas shareholders to register a "Hypotheque Judiciaire" or a judicial mortgage on a Paris apartment in the posh 16th arrondissement. The building previously served as the residence of the Indian Deputy Chief of Mission and is valued at 3.8 million euros.

Jay Newman, senior adviser to Devas shareholders, said, "India has assets like this all over the world. This is just the beginning. We're planning many more seizures." No immediate comment could be obtained from either ISRO or the government over the latest move by Devas.

The property is the same one that Britain's Cairn Energy froze in July last year in an attempt to get New Delhi to pay $1.2 billion that an international arbitration tribunal had awarded, overturning levy of taxes on the company retrospectively.

A month later, the government brought a law to annul all retrospective tax demands and refund all money collected to enforce such demands. Cairn has since withdrawn all cases it brought across the world to collect the arbitration award and is now entitled for a Rs 7,900 crore refund. Devas shareholders moved the French court on September 24, 2021.

According to the French court document, three investors -- CC/Devas Mauritius, Telcom Devas Mauritius and Devas Employees Mauritius Pvt Ltd -- had moved for the seizure of assets of the Indian government to enforce the arbitration award ordering compensation for the cancellation of the Devas-Antrix satellite deal.

Canada's Montreal district court had on December 21, 2021 ordered preliminary attachment of half of the funds that the Canada-based International Air Transport Association (IATA) holds on behalf of Air India.

The Montreal court ordered the seizure of the fund after preliminarily identifying Air India as an alter ego of the Government of India, which owns ISRO and Antrix. The IATA operates a settlement system for travel agents, meaning that its offices worldwide can handle much of an airline's global revenues. Devas shareholders have also sought registration of the arbitration award in the US, the first step before they can seize Indian assets to recover the award.

Devas Multimedia had in 2005 signed an agreement with Antrix -- the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) -- to provide multimedia services to mobile users using the leased S-band satellite spectrum. The deal was cancelled in 2011 on the ground that the auction of the broadband spectrum was mired in fraud and that the government needed the S-band satellite spectrum for national security and other social purposes.

Devas Multimedia initiated arbitration against the annulment at the International Chambers of Commerce (ICC). Two separate arbitrations were also initiated under the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) by Mauritius investors in Devas Multimedia under the India-Mauritius BIT and by Deutsche Telekom -- a German company -- under the India Germany BIT. India lost all three disputes. Devas shareholders include US investment groups Columbia Capital and Telecom Ventures as well as Deutsche Telekom.

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