Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Today's newspaper articles

Today’s articles (from “The Telegraph”, “The Guardian” and “The Daily Mail”) all talk about a recent court case here in India where the children of the Maharaja of Faridkot went to court to claim the inheritance owed to them.


Indian princesses win £2.5 billion inheritance after epic battle over father's will

Two elderly Indian princesses have inherited a £2.5 billion fortune after winning one of the country's longest-running royal legal battles.

By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
4:47PM BST 29 Jul 2013

The two surviving children of the late Maharaja of Faridkot, Sir Harinder Singh Brar, will now take control of one of the country's largest surviving royal fortunes after a court ruled they had been cheated out of their inheritance by palace staff who forged his final will.

The late Maharajah died aged 74 in 1989 after a long decline following the death of his son and heir Tikka in a motor accident.

He left a vast fortune including Faridkot House in the heart of Delhi, Manimajra Fort in Faridkot, his mountain retreat at Mashobra, close to the Viceroy's summer residence in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, and fleet of vintage cars in properties in Shimla.

He owned a number of Rolls Royces, military cars and several World War Two aircraft kept at his 22 acre aerodrome.

His three daughters, widow and elderly mother had expected to inherit his estate, but found instead he had left a 'will' giving it all to his army of staff and retainers through a trust established for their exclusive benefit.

The daughters were given positions as officers of the 'Meharwal Khewaji Trust', created under the terms of his surprise will, and nominal salaries of between £12 and £15 pounds a month.

The three surviving sisters launched a legal action to challenge the will in 1992, three years after their father's death, which eventually took 21 years to resolve. One of the sisters, Maheepinder Kaur, died of heart failure, aged 62, at her home in Mashobra in 2002.

Her two surviving older sisters, Amrit Kaur and Deepinder, known as 'Princess Bunty,' will now share the inheritance as new billionaires, although sources close to the family said it will not greatly change their lifestyles. They are both in their seventies and continued to live in some luxury after they married.

Deepinder Kaur has been the 'Maharaniadirani of Burdwan', near Calcutta, since she married the heir of the Burdwan princely state in 1959. Her husband is Maharajadhiraja Dr Saday Chand Mehtab whose father owned the Jahangir Diamond – the celebrated 83 carat stone which was once set in the beak of one of the Mughal peacock thrones. He sold it at auction in London to make the family even richer.

Neither sister has lived in hardship as they fought for their rightful inheritance. "They are very well-off indeed and have been having a good life," said a source close to the case who said the sisters are determined to protect their privacy following their victory.

Many of the properties and estates are believed to have fallen into neglect and disrepair since the Meharwal Khewarji Trust took control of them. Revenue officials launched a long investigation into the estate at Mashobra to establish its ownership and found it had been illegally transferred to the trust.

Last week a Chandigarh magistrate ruled that the sisters had been cheated out of their inheritance by their late father's staff in collusion with local lawyers who forged a will several years before he died in 1989.

"We have won the case after 21 years," their advocate Vikas Jain exclaimed to the news agency AFP as he celebrated a landmark victory.

Yesterday he declined to comment further after the two sisters informed him they would not be making any further statements.

Their victory marks the end of a series of bitter legal battles over the vast riches of several Indian royal families. The dispute between the grandchildren of the late Gyatri Devi, the Rajmata of Jaipur, and their relatives over their father's £250 million estate, is still in the courts 16 years after it began.

The Faridkot royals have a long history of losing and regaining their estate dating back to the Sikh Wars. The family are descendants of desert rulers in Rajasthan who established two rival princely states in Punjab, both of which were seized by the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1807.

The family allied with the British East India Company, which restored their estates to them two years later. The family played key roles in supporting the British in the Sikh Wars, the 1857 Indian Mutiny and the Afghan War.

The late Maharaja Sir Harinder Singh Brar, a senior officer who served in the Deccan Horse cavalry regiment, was regarded as one of the more astute of the former Indian royals who had managed to retain his wealth after India's independence stripped them of their power.


Maharajah's daughters inherit £2bn after court battle over 'forged' will

Lawyers for trust who stood to inherit estate say they will challenge court ruling, which makes sisters 33rd richest in India

As wills go, it was one worth fighting over. For more than two decades, lawyers in the north-western Indian city of Chandigarh battled over an Indian noble's legacy worth more than £2bn.

Now, a knockout punch may finally have been landed and the Maharajah of Faridkot's estate – complete with 300-year-old forts, a fleet of vintage Rolls-Royce cars, jewellery, a hugely valuable chunk of real estate in the capital, Delhi, and even an aerodrome – will revert to his daughters. The will, made seven years before his death in 1989, has been found by the top state court to have been forged.

Such disputes are common in India, where a succession of empires, mass migrations and chaotic politics have left a tangle of claims to property. But few involve such colossal sums.

There has been no public comment from the two elderly women who will inherit the estate and join India's club of billionaires. They enter the list of the booming economy's wealthiest people at joint 33rd. If their fortunes are counted as one, the sisters would take 20th place.

The will of their father, Sir Harinder Singh Brar, the last Maharajah of Faridkot, left everything to a trust to be run by his servants and lawyers when he died in 1989. His eldest daughter was disinherited on the grounds she had married against his wishes. The other was given a stipend of just 1,200 rupees a month – about £13.50 today. The maharajah, who had inherited the title in 1918, left nothing to his mother or wife.

The legacy immediately aroused suspicions and last week a judge declared that it had been "forged and fabricated". Local press reports quoted the heiresses' lawyer, Vikram Jain, as saying the will was now considered illegal and thus void.

Lawyers for the trust said they would contest the decision. "The will was real and it was not forged. The trust, after going through the order in detail, could challenge it in an upper court," said Ranjit Singh, counsel for the trust.

Little is known about the two new aristocrats. One has been reported to be living in the Punjab province near Faridkot, while the other lives in the eastern city of Kolkata or, possibly, abroad. A third daughter died more than a decade ago.

Though the Faridkot fortune is undoubtedly substantial, it is less impressive in comparison with those of India's most wealthy. According to Forbes, the software tycoon Azim Premji is worth $12.2bn (£8bn) and the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal is worth $16bn. The fortune of the industrialist Mukesh Ambani is calculated at more than $20bn, 10 times the Faridkot inheritance.

Most of India's often fabulously rich aristocracy lost much of their property when the country gained its independence in 1947. Much of the country was originally a series of nearly 300 kingdoms, princedoms and minor statelets. Some, such as Hyderabad, were vast. Others comprised a few fields and an old fort.

Most aristocrats were stripped of any remaining honours, privileges and revenue provided by the government by the prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1972. There have been periodic attempts to reverse the measures.

Maintenance costs for hundreds of palaces owned by the government are often astronomical. The government in the western state of Rajasthan has tried to sell properties ranging from merchant's homes to vast forts complete with elephant gates, but with limited success.

  • © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Indian princesses finally win battle for £2.6BILLION inheritance after court accepts that their Maharajah father's will was forged

  • After he died, the maharajah's daughters received a pittance, despite fortune
  • A disputed will left the estate in control of his former servants
  • Now the daughters, who are in their 80s, have finally won their birthright
By Sam Webb

The Maharajah of Faridkot: A court ruled that his 1982 will was a forgery, but his daughters have successfully fought the ruling and will now inherit the estate

It has all the makings of a best-selling novel.

An Indian maharajah crowned as a toddler and rich beyond imagination falls into a deep depression in old age after losing his only son.

After his own death a few months later, his daughters, the princesses, don't get the palaces, gold and vast lands they claim as their birthright.

Instead, they are given a few dollars a month from palace officials they accuse of scheming to usurp the royal billions with a forged will. The fight rages for decades.

On Saturday, an Indian court brought this chapter to a close, ruling that the will of Maharajah Harinder Singh Brar of Faridkot was fabricated.

His daughters will now inherit the estimated £2.6billion estate, instead of a trust run by his former servants and palace officials.

Chief judicial magistrate Rajnish Kumar Sharma, in the northern city of Chandigarh, finally gave his ruling on the case filed by the maharaja's eldest daughter, Amrit Kaur, in 1992, a court official said Monday.

The court official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The Faridkot riches were legend in India's Punjab state. The estate includes a 350-year-old fort, palaces and forests lands in Faridkot, a mansion surrounded by acres of land in the heart of India's capital New Delhi and similar properties spread across four states.

There is also a stable of 18 cars including a Rolls Royce, a Daimler and a Bentley, all in running condition.

In addition, there is an aerodrome in Faridkot, spread over 200 acres, which is being used by the Punjab state administration and the army.

There is also more than 10billion rupees (£110million) worth of gold, jewelry studded with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

The royal's two daughters will now inherit a vast fortune, including Faridkot House on Copernicus Marg in New Delhi

Brar himself was a boy-king who grew up amid the final gasps of India's royal families. He was crowned maharajah of the tiny kingdom of Faridkot in western Punjab - the last maharajah it would turn out - at the age of three, upon his father's death.

After India won independence from Britain in 1947, Faridkot and hundreds of other small kingdoms were absorbed into the country, royal titles and power were abolished and the royal families were given a fixed salary from the Indian government. That payment, the 'privy purse', was abolished in 1971.

Maharani Narinder Kaur, the wife of Maharajah Harinder Singh Brar. The couple were fond of shopping while on holiday in England and would stay at the Savoy - sometimes for as long as four months

Some royals slipped into penury, while some converted their former palaces into luxury hotels to provide them an income.

A few, like Brar, held onto their enormously profitable real estate and continued to live a rarefied life.

But in 1981, Brar's only son, Tikka Harmohinder Singh, was killed in a road accident and he tumbled into a deep depression. It was then, his three daughters' argued, that his trusted aides connived to deprive his family of their fortune.

They set up the Meharawal Khewaji Trust, naming all the maharajah's servants, officials and lawyers as trustees.

A short time after Brar's death in 1989, a will leaving all his wealth to the trust became public.
The two younger princesses, Deepinder Kaur and Maheepinder Kaur, were given monthly salaries of $20 and $18 respectively.

Brar's wife, mother and oldest daughter - the presumed heir - were cut off without a penny.

The trust told the court that Amrit Kaur had been shunned by her father for marrying against his wishes.

Kaur told the court that her father had never made a will and that she had remained with him until his death.

In the two decades that it has taken for the court to give its ruling, much has changed. The value of the estates has increased manifold.

The New Delhi properties alone are worth about £230million. One of his daughters, Maheepinder Kaur, died. Amrit and Deepinder are in their 80s.

The family's lawyer, Vikas Jain, told India's Financial Express newspaper that some of the fortune had been squandered away during the long case.

The trust is weighing a challenge to the Chandigarh court order in a higher court, news reports said Monday.

'The will was real and it was not forged. The trust, after going through the order in detail, could challenge it in an upper court,' Ranjit Singh, a lawyer for the trust, was quoted as telling The Times of India newspaper.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2380866/Indian-princesses-finally-win-battle-2-6BILLION-inheritance-court-accepts-Maharajah-fathers-forged.html#ixzz2aVzSueFb

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