“Fraud” is a knowing misrepresentation of the truth or concealment of a material fact to induce another to act to his detriment. Fraud can be of different forms and hues. Its ingredients are an intention to deceive, use of unfair means, deliberated concealment of material facts, or abuse of position of confidence. The Black’s Law Dictionary defines “fraud” as a concealment or false representation through a statement or conduct that injures another who relies on it.
The issue of arbitrability of fraud has arisen on numerous occasions and there exist conflicting decisions of the Apex Court on this issue. While it has been held in Bharat Rasiklal Ashra v. Gautam Rasiklal Ashra, (2012) 2 SCC 144 that when fraud is of such a nature that it vitiates the arbitration agreement, it is for the court to decide on the validity of the arbitration agreement by determining the issue of fraud, there exists two parallel lines of judgments on the issue of whether an issue of fraud is arbitrable. In this context, a two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court while adjudicating on an application under section 8 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 in N. Radhakrishnan v. Maestro Engineers, (2010) 1 SCC 72, held that an issue of fraud is not arbitrable. The decision was ostensibly based on the decision of the three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Abdul Kadir Shamsuddin Bubere v. Madhav Prabhakar Oak, AIR 1962 SC 406. However, the said three Judge Bench decision (which was based on the finding in Russel v. Russel, (1880) LR 14 Ch D 471) is only an authority for the proposition that a party against whom an allegation of fraud is made in a public forum, has a right to defend himself in that public forum.
A distinction has also been made by certain High Courts between a serious issue of fraud and a mere allegation of fraud and the former has been held to be not arbitrable. The Supreme Court in Meguin GmbH v. Nandan Petrochem Ltd., (2016) 10 SCC 422 in the context of an application filed under Section 11 has gone ahead and appointed an arbitrator even though issues of fraud were involved. A. Ayyasamy v. A. Parmasivam, (2016) 10 SCC 386.