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Inside the epic and messy dispute over the legacy of Britain’s richest family

Hindujas were once the ideal representation of an empire-building Indian diaspora family. However, the past decade has seen them embroiled in a nasty argument. The death of Srichand Hinduja has reignited the dispute, opening a Pandora’s box.

For a very long time, the Hindujas represented the perfect image of an Indian diaspora family – a common family unit, living together, pooling all their resources, working hard together and building an empire that would let outsiders (in this case, the British) in awe.

For decades, the family was known for two things – for running some of the biggest businesses the UK and the world has ever seen, and for consistently being the UK’s wealthiest family.

The last few years, however, revealed the darker side of what was going on inside the family. Since 2014, the public has witnessed one of the ugliest ownership disputes, a feud so nasty it has consistently made headlines. The death of Srichand Hinduja, the former patriarch of the family has reopened the Pandora’s box that everyone believed closed for a long time

No wonder if HBO’s hit TV show Succession ever needed an Indian version, it should only be some kind of documentary, following the lives of Hindujas.

The letter behind it all
The four Hinduja brothers – Srichand, Gopichand, Prakash and Ashok Hinduja – had been embroiled in a legal battle over their multi-billion fortunes and at the heart of the dispute was a letter from 2014. Dated July 2, 2014, the letter states that the Property held by a brother is collective property, with each appointing the others as executors.

Nevertheless, 84-year-old patriarch Srichand Hinduja and his daughter Vinoo are seeking to have the letter invalid, saying the family patriarch no longer considers the arrangement viable.

This was so because of a major asset that belonged solely to Srichand himself – the Swiss bank Hinduja, which held stakes in several other family businesses. The other three brothers wanted to take over the bank, using the aforementioned letter.

The Hinduja succession dispute
In 2019, Srichand initiated legal proceedings in the Business and Property Court in London to declare the letter voidable. Gopichand, Prakash and Ashok disputed this action, objecting both to Srichand’s representation by his daughter Vinoo and to the idea that Vinoo had his own financial interest in the matter.

The three brothers argued that an independent lawyer should represent Srichand instead. Srichand’s wife, Madhu, and their other daughter Shanu appeared as witnesses, confirming Vinoo’s appointment as Srichand’s representative in the legal proceedings (litigant friend). Judge Falk has been told that Srichand has an “age-related illness”.

Judge Falk asserted that Vinoo was Srichand’s friend in litigation, acknowledging that the defendants may believe that Vinoo acted against Srichand’s best interests. However, the judge noted that Vinoo and other immediate family members, whom Srichand has chosen as attorneys, are in a better position to assess this than opposing parties.

At Hinduja Bank, Srichand’s family consolidated their position. Karam Hinduja, the 29-year-old son of Shanu Hinduja, assumed the role of CEO, while Shanu Hinduja herself became the chairperson.

Srichand Hinduja served as President Emeritus. In 2018, Hinduja Bank, which is headquartered in Switzerland, had total assets worth 343 million Swiss francs, or about Rs 2,744 crore.

reach a settlement
In 2022, reports began to surface that the family would settle the matter between themselves and ensure that the property and assets were evenly distributed among the children of the family. This was after the children of Srichand Hinduja claimed their family was being sidelined in the group’s businesses and challenged the letter which formed the basis of succession planning.

The death of the patriarch and the reopening of Pandora’s box
Last week, Srichand Hinduja passed away, immediately after which things started to take a turn for the worse. In a London court in the proceedings representing Srichand Hinduja and the Hinduja family, Srichand Hinduja’s lawyer confirmed that the dispute between Gopichand Hinduja and his niece is still unresolved, saying no truce has was concluded between the two parties.

According to Nikki Singla, the lawyer representing Srichand’s interests, ongoing negotiations for broader settlements are underway.

However, Gopichand and Srichand’s daughter have not yet resolved their differences over the use of the 2014 letter. Singla pointed out that the complex situation involves many assets spread across different jurisdictions and that there appears to have been a lack of prior consideration for such division in such circumstances.

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