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Ambani Brothers Square Off In India's Supreme Court

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And today, India's Supreme Court held a hearing aimed at settling a long running family feud between two brothers, who happen to be two of the world's richest men.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports from the capital, New Delhi.

PHILIP REEVES: The epic battle between India's Ambani brothers has reached the country's highest court. For months, the case has transfixed the business world. It involves two men with a combined worth of $30 billion. Men whose giant companies embrace a host of interests, from oil and gas exploration, to telecommunications, financial services, retail and entertainment. They contribute a sizable chunk to India's overall economic output.

In one corner, there's 52-year-old Mukesh Ambani. Mukesh controls Reliance Industries. Forbes magazine lists him as the seventh richest man in the world. He's number one in Asia. In the other corner, there's his younger brother Anil. Anil's head of Reliance Natural Resources and is also a billionaire many times over.

The brothers have been at loggerheads off and on since the Reliance business empire was split between them, following their father's death. The business was divided up under a private agreement brokered four years ago by their mother. As part of that deal, Mukesh's Reliance Industries agreed to sell Anil's group, Natural Gas, from a giant field it operates off India's East Coast. The price was set at a level that's 44 percent below today's rate set by the government.

A lower court has broadly upheld that agreement. Mukesh wants the Supreme Court to overturn this, arguing it's the government's job to determine the gas price, not his family's. The case touches on issues of fundamental importance, including the extent and effectiveness of government regulation over India's all important energy sector. But it's also seen here simply as a gripping human drama, a gladiatorial tussle of egos worthy of Shakespeare, between two glamorous and unimaginably rich business moguls.

No one knows exactly how long the case will last. Some analysts say it'll be months, maybe even years.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

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