© 2024 WYPR
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Heirs Of Hyderabad's Last King Can Claim Millions Held In U.K. Account, Court Rules

A portrait of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Osman Ali Khan. The seventh and last nizam ruled Hyderabad between 1911 and 1948, until it was merged back into independent India.
PA Images via Getty Images
A portrait of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Osman Ali Khan. The seventh and last nizam ruled Hyderabad between 1911 and 1948, until it was merged back into independent India.

A London court has finally put to rest one of the many disputes between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan.

It goes back 71 years, to just after the partition of British colonial India into two independent states, India and Pakistan. At the time, the region was dotted with princely fiefdoms ruled by Hindu maharajahs and Muslim nizam — autonomous royals who lived in ornate palaces and amassed huge fortunes in cash and jewels.

The largest of these princely states was Hyderabad, situated in the heart of the newly created India. Hyderabad's ruler, Osman Ali Khan, the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad, declined to join India, prompting his kingdom's invasion and annexation.

But before that happened, the nizam deposited just over 1 million pounds in the London account of Pakistan's high commissioner to Britain. The nizam's family contends that the money was put there for safekeeping, but Pakistan says it was to pay for weapons to defend Hyderabad from the Indian army.

The cash was caught in legal limbo: No one could get their hands on it even as the pounds sterling continued to accumulate interest in a London bank account.

A claim to the account was first lodged in the U.K.'s High Court of Justice in 1954, with the nizam and his family petitioning the bank and the Pakistani commissioner for its return, according to The Guardian.

But the case went nowhere for decades and Osman Ali Khan died in 1967 with the dispute still unresolved.

It wasn't until 2013, when Islamabad decided to make a claim to the money, that the case came back to life.

The nizam's grandsons, Prince Mukarram Jah and his younger brother, Muffakham Jah, were supported by India in a counterclaim.

The High Court in London on Wednesday ruled that "Nizam VII was beneficially entitled to the fund and those claiming in right of Nizam VII — the princes and India — are entitled to have the sum paid out to their order."

In the intervening years, the 1 million pounds has grown to about 35 million pounds, or $43 million.

Paul Hewitt, an attorney for Prince Mukarram Jah, said his client was "delighted" with the outcome of the case.

"Our client was still a child when the dispute first arose and is now in his 80s," Hewitt said. "It is a great relief to see this dispute finally resolved in his lifetime."

Philip Barden, an attorney for Prince Muffakham Jah, called it "an unusual and fascinating case."

"[It] required the court to delve into the history books and reconstruct events that took place over 70 years ago, around the time of the partition of India and annexation of Hyderabad," Barden said.

"In this case, justice delayed has not ultimately been denied," he said.

Sushmita Pathak and Lauren Frayer in Mumbai, India, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.