Patak family return to court in battle over £75m empire

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The Independent Online

The dispute that has ravaged the family behind one of Britain's most enduring food brands, the £75m Patak's curry empire, was reignited at the High Court yesterday.

The dispute that has ravaged the family behind one of Britain's most enduring food brands, the £75m Patak's curry empire, was reignited at the High Court yesterday.

During a fractious hearing, counsel for two of the family's married sisters who claim they were cheated out of their rightful shares in the company, accused their younger brother, Kirit Pathak, of reneging on an agreement to settle their claim.

Chitralekha Mehta, 56, and Anila Shastri, 52, insist a binding deal was made six months ago with Mr Pathak, boss of the Lancashire-based firm, which brought a premature end to the trial of their bitterly contested lawsuit. The sisters allegedly accepted a £4m share each of the business in the deal - a claim disputed by Mr Pathak, who says his offer of 6.25 per cent of the company is still on the table. This was after Mr Pathak accused them of being "gold diggers". But the pair argue they are the victims of sexism, disguised as traditional Hindu and family business practice which allows for male inheritance only.

Now the women, who have run up £1.5m costs in legal aid, are threatening further court action against Mr Pathak for allegedly abrogating their deal, announced in April, which was sealed after six weeks of confrontation. The dispute is likely to rumble on until next summer.

John McDonnell QC, for the sisters, and David Oliver QC, counsel for Mr Pathak, clashed several times during the course of yesterday's hearing, forcing the intervention of the judge, Mr Justice Evans-Lombe. At the centre of their argument is the sisters' attempt to continue with the original case while having the option to force the agreement through more court action.

Mr Oliver said the notion that a deal was struck in April was a "non-starter". "I am unwilling to see my clients subjected to further trial in these proceedings at grotesque public expense," he said. The judge refused to order a resumed hearing in the original case until he had been told whether the sisters would pursue their alternative claim. The resumed hearing cannot take place until next June.

Mrs Shastri said: "Nobody likes to go back into court for something that should have been concluded... I hope he will do what is justifiably right."

The Patak empire - the 'h' was dropped from the family name - was founded in 1956 by the women's father Laxmishanker Pathak after he came to Britain from Kenya. His son has run the business to widespread acclaim for the past 34 years.

But the family fell out after the daughters' shares were removed from their control in 1989. The Legal Services Commission has indicated that the women will repay their legal aid out of the final settlement.