MUMBAI – It was a display of sibling devotion for the record books.
This week, Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, intervened to prevent his younger brother Anil from going to jail by writing a very large check.
Mukesh, 61, helped Anil, 59, make a payment of $67 million on outstanding debt the day before a court-imposed deadline. Without the payment, Anil had faced three months’ imprisonment.
The dramatic development marked the latest twist in the long saga of India’s wealthiest family. More than a decade ago, the two brothers feuded over the empire first created by their father and parted ways in a rancorous split.
They have come together on important family occasions, including the lavish wedding of Mukesh’s daughter Isha in December. The nuptials featured a private performance by Beyoncé, and the guests included former U.S. secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.
Mukesh heads Reliance Industries, a petrochemicals-to-retail conglomerate. He has a fortune estimated at $54 billion, according to Bloomberg, and lives in his own 27-story skyscraper in Mumbai, India’s financial capital.
His younger brother Anil, chairman of Reliance Group, has been far less successful. His wealth has decreased to $300 million, roughly a tenth of what it was in 2008, and his businesses are saddled with debt. He has also become enmeshed in a political controversy over a deal to buy fighter planes from France.
Both brothers sought to win a chunk of India’s fast-growing telecommunications industry. Mukesh’s low-cost cellphone service, Reliance Jio, launched in 2016 and gained millions of subscribers. Meanwhile, Anil’s business struggled and accrued debts, including to Ericsson, the Swedish telecom giant.
On Monday, Anil’s troubled telecom venture, Reliance Communications, paid $67 million to Ericsson, clearing its obligations. It had earlier deposited $17 million with the court for payment to Ericsson. Asked whether elder brother Mukesh had provided all or part of Monday’s funds, a spokesman for Reliance Communications said he did not know.
The funds came from Mukesh in a personal capacity, said a spokesman for Reliance Industries. He did not confirm the amount.
Whatever the figure, Anil expressed deep gratitude to Mukesh.
“My sincere and heartfelt thanks to my respected elder brother … for standing by me during these trying times, and demonstrating the importance of staying true to our strong family values by extending this timely support,” he said in a statement. “I and my family are grateful we have moved beyond the past.”
India’s Supreme Court had taken a dim view of Anil’s repeated delays in paying the amount he owed to Ericsson and last month found him guilty of contempt of court.
But even with his brother’s help, Anil’s financial woes are not over. Reliance Communications also owes a payment of $40 million to the Indian government next month, according to media reports.