Hinduja brothers battle over $11-billion family fortune in UK High Court

The brothers and their children run different companies across the world, with interests in banking (IndusInd Bank), automobiles (Ashok Leyland), business process outsourcing, chemicals, electricity generation, and media.
The battle for control of assets in the Hinduja family has come out in the open, with ailing group patriarch S P Hinduja launching legal action against his brothers Gopichand (80), Prakash (75), and Ashok (69). A British high court has appointed Vinoo Hinduja, daughter of S P Hinduja (84), to act on his behalf.

The three brothers are seeking control of Switzerland-based Hinduja Bank and have relied on a 2014 letter signed by all of them that said the assets of the group were owned by them and each would appoint the others as their executors.

The bank’s ownership is currently in the name of London-based S P Hinduja. According to the court documents, he is unable to perform his duty due to ill health. As S P lacks capacity, the court said, Vinoo Hinduja would act on his behalf – which was opposed by the other brothers. Hinduja Bank has Shanu Hinduja, daughter of S P, as chairperson, and her son Karam was appointed CEO just last week.

The brothers and their children run different companies across the world, with interests in banking (IndusInd Bank), automobiles (Ashok Leyland), business process outsourcing, chemicals, electricity generation, and media. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index has estimated the combined wealth of the Hinduja brothers at $11.2 billion.

The British court’s judgment also made references to the family’s other legal proceedings, including confidential proceedings in Jersey, and said the other three brothers were prevented from seeing their eldest brother for some time.

Reacting to the British court’s verdict, a statement by the three Hinduja brothers called it a “private affair” and said the litigation would not have any impact on the group’s global businesses. “It will be apparent from the judgment of the High Court in England, that S P Hinduja's health has been deteriorating for a number of years suffering from Lewy Body disease, which is a form of dementia. Vinoo, his younger daughter, acting as his litigation friend is bringing these proceedings on his behalf,” the statement said.

“It is very unfortunate that these proceedings are taking place as they go against our founder's and family’s values and principles that have stood for many decades, especially everything belongs to everyone and nothing belongs to anyone. We intend to defend the claim to uphold these dearly held family values,” the brothers said. Corporate lawyers said that as the ownership structure of the Hinduja group was extremely complex and opaque, it made sense for the family members to sit together and settle the issue. “This litigation will not get them anywhere and the only people who benefit from this fight will be the lawyers,” said H P Ranina, a Mumbai-based lawyer. This fight, Ranina said, was going on for a long time and the earlier the Hinduja brothers come to a settlement, the better.

In 2017, 13.4 million leaked papers from legal firm Appleby in 19 tax jurisdictions showed that the Hinduja brothers had set up trusts in various tax havens to manage their wealth. Known as “Paradise papers”, the leaked papers showed that the Acorn Trust, which was set up on June 14, 1990, was the ultimate holding company of the Hinduja group. 

A source close to the family described the senior members of the clan as “four brothers, one soul”. He also said the “concept of family unity” was SP’s idea. “Everything belongs to everyone, nothing belongs to anyone,” he is quoted as saying. The other brothers are “committed to upholding SP's values,” he added, citing one of them as commenting, “My ultimate goal is to keep the family intact.”

Asked about Vinoo, who initiated proceedings in London, a family member stated: “It’s rather unfortunate that she had gone this way.” Vinoo, sources said, is acting on SP's behalf, with the apparent approval and support of her mother Madhu and elder sister Shanu.

(With inputs from Ashis Ray from London)



Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel