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Big win for estranged Simba Corp billionaire’s heir at last

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By Wainaina Wambu | October 25th 2021

Simba Corp board chairman Alnashir Popat at a shareholders briefing in Nairobi. January 2021. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

A father’s love is all Alnashir Popat ever wanted, but he never got it while the senior Popat was alive.

But last week, Alnashir finally felt a semblance of the fatherly love he yearned for, courtesy of the courts in a precedent-setting ruling. It was a long coming.

When billionaire Abdulkarim Popat died in 2013 aged 87, he excluded Alnashir from his last will, leading to a vicious succession battle with his siblings.

At the time of his death, his estate was valued at about Sh4 billion.

The patriarch had made his fortune through Simba Corp, a business conglomerate cutting across key sectors of the economy, including motor assembly, hospitality, finance and real estate.

The firm’s hotel portfolio includes the swanky Villa Rosa Kempinski, Hemingways, and the Acacia Premier Hotel. Simba Corp is also the local dealership of the Mitsubishi, Mahindra and the Proton brand of vehicles.

The Sh4 billion valuation is just a modest estimation, with the late Popat’s empire also encompassing trusts in the British Virgin Islands and shares in firms across the world.

Alnashir, the chairman of the collapsed Imperial Bank, where over Sh30 billion is said to have been siphoned, blamed his brother Adil for his woes.

They worked together in their father’s firm Simba Colt Motors (SCM) as managing director and deputy managing director respectively.

Their relationship soured over time, forcing Alnashir to leave the firm. His late father gave him 10 per cent of the shares in SCM, while his brothers got seven per cent.

Alnashir later sold his stake to his father for Sh850 million, part of which he used to acquire 14 per cent shareholding in Imperial Bank for Sh280 million.

Billionaire Abdulkarim Popat died in 2013 aged 87. [Courtesy]

According to Adil, Alnashir’s relationship with their late father was “dysfunctional,” with the two not having spoken for five years before his death. Alnashir is said to even have failed to invite him to his daughter’s wedding.

Alnashir was also bitter at how easily his father had accepted his decision to leave Simba Colt after over three decades and allegedly made life difficult for him and his family, including calling him names.

Alnashir went to court to challenge the will, suing his mother Gulzar and siblings Adil and Azim for a piece of the vast wealth that he felt was rightfully his.

“There was nonetheless no statement in the will to expressly say why the name was left out. It was clear, however, that he was not meant to be one of the heirs to the vast estate,” noted the Court of Appeal in overturning a High Court ruling that had upheld the will.

In 2013, Alnashir went to court to block the distribution of his father’s wealth, describing himself as a son and dependent who was entitled to his deceased father’s estate.

“He acknowledges the fact that his father’s will is valid and goes on to list the bequests made to his mother, siblings and other members of his extended family. He avers that he is entitled to reasonable provision from the estate of his father as a dependant and that in fairness and equity, all the deceased’s three sons are entitled to equal treatment and thus to equal apportionment of his estat...,” read court papers filed in the case. 

The executors of the will had sought revocation of the orders, asking the estate to be distributed according to the deceased’s will.

The late Popat had dropped Alnashir from the will but made provisions for his wife, his other two sons, five grandchildren and several charitable organisations. In court filings, Alnashir said he had worked for his late father for 52 years until his death.

Curiously, when he decided to sell his stake in Simba Corp, his father quickly snapped them up for Sh850 million.

“This sale marked the appellant’s exit from the Simba companies, and he went to be on his own,” say court papers.

His brothers, Adil and Karim, claimed that Alnashir should have demonstrated that he was entitled to “reasonable provision.”  They argued that Alnashir had always been gainfully employed since leaving university and “was a man of considerable means.”

They added that before their father’s death, he had received the Sh850 million in 2007 for his shares and owned 14 per cent of Imperial Bank besides being the chairman of the bank for many years.

Adil Popat. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

They also argued that between 2008 and 2013, Alnashir earned dividends amounting to over Sh200 million and had a direct shareholding in other firms.

But the punchline was his brothers’ claim that he wasn’t on good terms with their father prior to his death “and was, therefore, not entitled to any reasonable provision.”

The appeal judges acknowledged the poor relationship with his father, anchored by “an emotional and bitter letter” that he wrote to his father in 2009.

In the letter, he accused the senior Popat and his mother, the second respondent, of “playing favourites” with Adil since childhood.

Adil is the group executive chairman of Simba Corp.

“He also accused his father of not caring for him and denying him the fatherly love and guidance that he so desperately needed, but giving the same to Adil,” noted the Court of Appeal judges.

They said it was on this basis that the lower court had ruled that the deceased made his will freely to lock out Alnashir.

However, Alnashir appealed the decision, leading to last week’s ruling.

“The appellant’s argument in the trial court that as a biological son of the deceased, he did not have to prove that he was a dependant was valid as it was rather automatic,” ruled Appeal Court judges Wanjiru Karanja, Jamila Mohammed and Jessie Lesiit.

They further noted that the presiding judge in the lower court Mugure Thande had “missed the point on this issue.”

“The letter clearly shows that the appellant’s love and respect for his father were constant. It is his father who was non-responsive. The appellant’s conduct towards his father cannot be impugned. Even after feeling discriminated against by his own father, a feeling that he shared with the fourth respondent, the appellant continued to reach out to his father,” said the judges.

The judges also ordered  “a full, accurate current inventory and valuation report of the deceased’s estate” be filed with the High Court within 30 days.

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