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Devas vs Antrix rages on

July 20, 2022

Devas Multimedia won a $1.2 billion (€1.17bn) arbitration award in 2015, confirmed by a US Federal Court back in October 2020. The award was compensation for alleged illegal activity at India’s Antrix which was the commercial arm of India’s State Research Organisation (ISRO).

The US District Court in Washington, on July 13th, insisted that the awards must be paid out. The Court has denied a request from Antrix to ‘stay’ a May 18th order while Antrix mounted yet another appeal.

Meanwhile, India’s Enforcement Directorate (ED) has declared the CEO of Devas a “fugitive offender” in the long-running legal case. The ED has moved a court application under India’s Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018, to declare Ramachandran Viswanathan an economic offender ahead of a trial in a Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) case being pursued by the authorities.

Devas and Antrix signed an “Agreement for the Lease of Space Segment Capacity on ISRO/Antrix S-band spacecraft by Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd” on January 28th 2005, a month after Devas was incorporated in Bengaluru in December 2004 by two former ISRO employees. Under the deal, ISRO would lease to Devas two communication satellites (GSAT-6 and 6A) for 12 years.

The deal was subsequently cancelled by the Indian government. Devas is backed by a trio of Mauritian investors plus German telco Deutsche Telekom. The Devas lawyers have been seizing foreign assets owned by ISRO.

But ISRO and the successor company to Antrix have used just about every legal opportunity to delay and sidestep any payments to Devas.

In February 2020 there were hopes of a breakthrough agreement with India’s prime minister Modi which seemed likely to lead to “hundreds of millions of dollars” being paid by India to settle the dispute. India subsequently scrubbed the potential agreement.

Devas has cemented its claim and won separate compensation awards in international tribunals, including the $1.2 billion, plus interest, awarded by an International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) tribunal on September 14th 2015. Deutsche Telekom was awarded $101 million plus interest by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Geneva on May 27th 2020, and the Mauritius investors were awarded $111 million by the UN Commission on International Trade Law tribunal on October 13th 2020. The German investors claimed compensation for violation of an India-Germany bilateral investment treaty (BIT) and the Mauritius investors for an India-Mauritius BIT.

Despite India pursuing criminal claims against senior ISRO and Antrix executives, there has been little progress on the core claim. India’s Central Bureau of Investigation has issued proceedings against eight officials from Devas, ISRO and Antrix linked to the original agreement for “being party to a criminal conspiracy with an intent to cause undue gain to themselves or others by abusing official positions”.

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