India Finally Wins Partition-Era Financial Dispute In The UK: The courts don’t always work as quickly as we’d like them to. Justice is many things, but rarely swift. Criminal cases can take years to pass through the courts and reach a conclusion.
Civil lawsuits and matters of dispute can take even longer. Even with that information at the back of one’s mind, though, when we file a claim, we expect it to be resolved in less than seventy years.
For a grandson of Mir Osman Ali Khan – the last Nazim of Hyderabad – however, that’s exactly how long they’ve had to wait to inherit a fortune that was deposited in a British bank in 1948.
The story begins just before the partition. The final Nizam of Hyderabad had around one million British pounds to keep safe, and was aware that a time of great disturbance was approaching.
In the interests of protecting his fortune, he transferred the sum into a bank account that belonged to the high commissioner of Pakistan, and was held with the Westminster Bank (now known as NatWest) in London.
The Nizam was conflicted about the upcoming partition. He hadn’t yet decided whether his state would be India or Pakistan. He was, however, Muslim.
For that reason, he’d long been opposed to the idea of his land becoming part of India, because India was a nation controlled by Hindus. Pakistan, who contested the case and thereby caused the decades-long dispute, have taken this as a sign that the Nizam would never have wanted the money to fall into Indian hands.
Their version of events is that the Nizam intended that the funds would be used to buy weapons, and that those weapons would have been used to arm soldiers and thereby defend Hyderabad against the Indians.
While it may not be unreasonable to believe this to be the case, the Nizam’s own family disagree with it. In their version of events, the only intention that the Nizam had when he transferred the money into the account was to keep it safe, and that he wished to use the money to ensure the future prosperity of his family. In their minds, the money was theirs, and the Pakistani claim was baseless.
With both sides presenting claims to the bank, the bank took the decision that they couldn’t make a ruling as to who the rightful owner of the money was without the intervention of a court. That made the situation more complicated.
The obvious heir to the fortune was the Nizam’s grandson, but he was still a child. It wasn’t until 1954 that he was old enough to fully comprehend the situation and acquire a lawyer, and the long journey to reclaiming the money began. Even the initial claim process dragged on for years. With no resolution achieved by 1957, Pakistan played what it thought was a masterstroke.
They filed in the British House of Lords for sovereign immunity, and the money was then, in effect, frozen. Neither side had won, but neither party had lost. The issue was on hold, and would remain that way for the next fifty-five years.
During that time, the amount of cash in the bank account began to grow. Interest was still payable against the balance, and it grew year on year. By 2013, the sum had reached £35m, and so Pakistan began to rethink its stance. Whoever could claim it through the courts now would feel as if they had won a mobile slots game.
When you play mobile slots on website like Late Casino, the aim of the game is to put a little money in, and take significantly more out. Mobile slots are a gamble, though. This money was not. It was real, and it was a significant-enough sum that Pakistan decided to try to lay claim to it once more.
The Pakistani side made the first move by renouncing its claim to sovereign immunity, and launched a new claim against the bank in an attempt to force them to hand the money over. They hadn’t counted on the fact that the descendants of the Nizam were still alive.
Two grandchildren – one of whom had been the original claimant all the way back in 1957, launched their own counterclaims, and the matter was back in legal paralysis yet again. For the next five years, the case was debated back and forth, and the sum of money in the account continued to grow.
The 2013 court case may have been resolved faster had the Indian government not also thrown its hat into the ring as potential claimants. If they hadn’t backed out the case would likely still be going through arbitration now, but the two grandsons reached an agreement with the government in 2018 which specified how much each party would receive in the event that the claim went in their favor. Delhi backed away from the matter, and the legal machine rolled on.
As if the matter weren’t complicated enough, the British courts weren’t initially sure that they had the right to rule on the case. The investment of the money into the bank account could be construed as an act of state by a foreign power, which would have been outside the jurisdiction of the court. With no other apparent source of justice or redress, though, sitting judge Justice Marcus Smith ultimately decided that he had the right to rule, and he broke a seventy-year long deadlock by ruling in favor of the Indian side. After all this time, the case came down to one simple fact; the grandsons of the Nizam were able to provide first-hand testimony of their grandfather’s intentions when banking the money. The Pakistani side had no evidence whatsoever.
With the eldest grandson of the Nizam now in his 80s, he probably assumed that he’d never live to see this day arrive. By the time the judgment – which ran to over one hundred pages – was issued, the balance in the account has moved close to £40m. We finally know who the rightful owner of this partition-era deposit is, but we may never find out what happens to the cash from here. It’s believed that the case is the longest-running civil claim issue in legal history.