A celebrated legal stalemate – involving the governments of India and Pakistan, the heirs of the last ruling Nizam of Hyderabad and £35 million held in a British bank – may finally draw to a conclusion after more than 65 years of heated dispute.
The seeds of discord were sown amidst the mayhem of partition in September 1948 when the seventh Nizam transferred over £1 million to a bank account in London held in the name of the High Commissioner of recently-formed Pakistan. With interest, the sum held by the bank was now just under £35 million.
The impasse developed when the Nizam’s attempt to remain independent failed, his army surrendered and his princely state was annexed by India. The Nizam sought to reverse the money transfer, on the basis that it had been made without his authority, but the bank refused to comply after taking the view that legal title to the contents of the account was in doubt. The dispute rumbled on for decades as the governments of India and Pakistan fought over the ever-growing pot.
The plot thickened further when the eighth Nizam, who succeeded to the title in 1967, and his younger brother laid claim to the money. Claims were also lodged by members of the extended family of the seventh Nizam, who was believed to have as many as 49 concubines and 150 illegitimate children.
In more recent times, Pakistan launched proceedings through its High Commission in London, seeking a High Court ruling as to the rightful destination of the money. However, Pakistan subsequently purported to discontinue its claim, fearing that the litigation might compromise its sovereign immunity.
In refusing to allow discontinuance of the claim, the Court found that Pakistan had, by lodging the proceedings, irrevocably submitted to the jurisdiction of the English courts. The bank had, throughout the proceedings, stated that it was impartially willing to pay the money to whomsoever it might be justly due.