Top court refuses to be drawn into case over tycoon’s estate

Joginder Singh Dhanjal (left) with his lawyer Khalid Salim at the Mombasa Law Courts in November 2018. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The Supreme Court has dismissed an application to have it review a ruling on the management of a multi-billion shilling empire that belonged to a Mombasa businessman.

The decision is the latest in a long-running legal battle fought by relatives of the late Jaswant Singh Boor Dhanjal on the inheritance of his empire worth an estimated Sh15 billion.

“The Supreme Court was not intended to be an extra tier of appeal to handle all and sundry appeals from the Court of Appeal,” the court ruled last Friday.

According to the apex court, the applicant, Nirmal Singh Dhanjal - Jaswant’s nephew, failed to demonstrate that the case was of general public importance hence warranted its interpretation.

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The matter that was heard and determined by the High Court and Court of Appeal – and which has divided the family into two camps – revolved around determining whether Jaswant’s property had been transferred in a proper and legal manner.

After Jaswant died without leaving a will in 2004, the family allowed his son, Daljit Singh Dhanjal, to become the administrator of the huge estate.

On July 26, 2006, Daljit obtained letters of administration. But three months earlier, on March 9, he had entered into an agreement to transfer a share of the estate to his uncles.

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In March 2015, another son, Joginder Singh Dhanjal, filed a case in the Mombasa High Court seeking revocation of the grant letters issued to Daljit and the settlement agreement he entered into with two of their uncles.

Joginder argued that the deal with Dalip Singh Dhanjal and Baldev Singh Dhanjal was illegal because his brother (Daljit) had no legal capacity to transfer the shares at the time.

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The complainant told the court that the transfer of their father’s properties without a confirmed letter of grant from Jaswant’s estate was null and void.

“It was a ploy to disinherit me,” he claimed.

But the third brother, Surjit Singh Jaswant, and one of two sisters, Jasper Kaur Nagi, jumped to Daljit’s defence, saying they stood behind the decision that authorised him to manage their father’s assets.

In its verdict, the High Court ruled that Daljit erred by entering into a settlement agreement to transfer his father’s shares before the letters of administration had been issued and confirmed.

Elaborate document

“The transfer of the deceased’s 18,750 shares in Dhanjal Investment to Dalip Singh Dhanjal is void,” ruled Justice Mugure Thande.

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She added: “While purporting to act as an administrator of the deceased’s estate, Daljit entered into a settlement agreement with the deceased’s brothers in which certain shares of the deceased’s estate were transferred in a very elaborate document titled ‘settlement agreement’.

“This where the problems began as the other beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate distanced themselves from the said settlement agreement.”

The matter did not end there after an appeal was lodged. On February 15, 2018, a three-judge bench of justices Alnashir Visram, Wanjiru Karanja and Martha Koome also ruled that Daljit had not followed due process of “obtaining the requisite confirmed grant showing the mode of distributing the deceased’s assets.”

“In a nutshell, this court found that any transfers done under the settlement agreement were null and void because at the time the said transfers were executed, the letters of administration appointing Daljit the administrator of the deceased’s estate were not yet issued or confirmed.

“This means he was not an administrator of the estate and as such, he lacked the authority to effect transfer of shares or any disposition of the deceased properties,” the court ruled.

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Supreme CourtJaswant Singh Boor DhanjalCourt of Appeal