Sisters sue brother for share of £54m Indian food empire

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The Independent Online

A family feud at one of the wealthiest Indian food dynasties in Britain was played out at the High Court yesterday as two sisters claimed they were excluded from their inheritance because they were women.

Chitralekha Mehta and her sister Anila Shastri are suing their brother, Kirit Pathak, for a share of the multimillion-pound Patak business empire founded by their father more than 40 years ago.

The sisters, one of whom is also suing their mother, Shantagaury, claim that they were treated unfavourably compared to their brothers and were victims of the Hindu culture.

The High Court heard how the two sisters were given shares of £1,250 each in 1974 when their father, Laxminshanker Pathak, handed over control of the company to his four sons. Mrs Mehta, 56, and Mrs Shastri, 52, claimed they were then tricked into transferring the shares to their mother in 1989 in the misguided belief that they would be returned. Instead, their mother allegedly gave the shares to Kirit, 51, who was in the process of buying out the rest of his family, including his father, who died in 1997.

Mrs Mehta denied during cross-examination yesterday, that she was motivated by greed and insisted she had not been aware she was permanently transferring the shares.

David Oliver QC, counsel for Mr Pathak and his mother, suggested that when she handed over her share she had not been interested in the business, which was relatively small at the time. He told the court that Patak's turnover had risen from £3.8m in 1989 to more than £28.5m in 1997 and in excess of £54m last year.

Mr Pathak built up the company after arriving in England from Kenya in 1955 with only £5. He sold samosas from his home before setting up his first shop three years later. He dropped the "h" from the name of the company to make it easier to pronounce.

Mr Oliver claimed that Mrs Mehta was a woman of "considerable wealth" in India having made more than £100,000 from property sales in Bolton, Greater Manchester, in the past five years. "I suggest this litigation is driven by greed on your part," he said.

Mrs Mehta insisted that she had repeatedly sought assurances from her brother in connection with the return of the shares but had failed to obtain an answer. "I just want to hear from his mouth how deviously he treated my and my sister's shares," Mrs Mehta said. "I never thought a brother was capable of such a thing."

She added: "All I am after is what's right and justifiably mine and I, as a girl, as a daughter, as a woman, I don't think I can be treated like this ... greed has never been my intention."

The court also heard that the daughters claimed to have received a note from their mother written in Gujarati in which she assured them that their shares would be returned before she died. When Mr Oliver claimed it was a forgery, she replied: "That note is my mother's and I have no reason to lie about it." Mrs Mehta denied that she was wealthy, adding that she was living in a bedsit and was in poor health after selling the properties.

The hearing continues.