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India In-Focus — Blast at India’s Tata Steel coke plant; Xiaomi accuses Indian agency of physical violence threats

MUMBAI: India’s Tata Steel said three contract workers had been injured in a blast at one of its coke plant units in the eastern state of Jharkhand on Saturday.

The unit was not operational and was undergoing a dismantling process, Tata, India’s largest steelmaker by revenue, said in a statement, adding that production has not been impacted.

Tata did not say what had caused the blast but some local media reported that it happened in a gas pipeline at a battery site and led to a massive fire.

“An investigation to assess the cause is underway,” Tata said.

Xiaomi accuses Indian agency of physical violence threats

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp has alleged its top executives faced threats of “physical violence” and coercion during questioning by India’s financial crime-fighting agency, according to a court filing seen by Reuters.

Officials from the Enforcement Directorate warned the company’s former India managing director, Manu Kumar Jain, current Chief Financial Officer Sameer B.S. Rao, and their families of “dire consequences” if they did not submit statements as desired by the agency, Xiaomi’s filing dated May 4 stated.

After the Reuters story was published, the Enforcement Directorate issued a statement saying Xiaomi’s allegations were “untrue and baseless” and company executives had deposed “voluntarily in the most conducive environment”.

Xiaomi has been under investigation since February and last week the Indian agency seized $725 million in the company’s India bank accounts, saying it made illegal remittances abroad “in the guise of royalty” payments. 

Xiaomi has denied any wrongdoing, saying its royalty payments were legitimate.

LAst week a judge heard Xiaomi lawyers and put on hold the Indian agency’s decision to freeze bank assets. The next hearing is set for May 12. 

The company alleges intimidation when executives appeared for questioning multiple times in April.

Jain and Rao were on certain occasions “threatened … with dire consequences including arrest, damage to the career prospects, criminal liability and physical violence if they did not give statements as per the dictates of” the agency, according to the filing in the High Court of southern Karnataka state.

The executives “were able to resist the pressure for some time, (but) they ultimately relented under such extreme and hostile abuse and pressure and involuntarily made some statements,” it added.

In its media statement, the Enforcement Directorate said it is a “professional agency with strong work ethics and there was no coercion or threat to the officers of the company at any point of time”.

Generali becomes majority shareholder in Indian non-life joint venture

Italy’s top insurer Generali said on Friday it had completed the acquisition of a 25 percent stake in its Indian non-life insurance joint venture, increasing its holding to 74 percent after receiving regulatory and competition approvals.

When it announced the deal in January, Generali said it had agreed to pay 145 million euros ($153 million) to debt-laden Future Group, its partner in Future Generali India Insurance, for the stake.

The deal, which is in line with Generali’s strategy to position itself in fast-growing markets, follows a 2021 decision by the Indian government to allow foreign companies to own up to 74 percent of a local insurance business, up from 49 percent previously.

In March, Generali also completed a deal to become the majority shareholder in its Indian life insurance joint venture.

Generali is the first international insurer to take a majority stake in both its Indian life and non-life insurance joint ventures since the new foreign ownership cap came into effect, it said in a statement.

(With input from Reuters)