Two sons of businessman Abdul Karim Popat are embroiled in a vicious battle for control of their father’s multi-billion shilling empire, offering rare insight into the patriarch’s wealth and setting in motion what is promising to be one of Kenya’s most bruising succession wars.
The battle began in earnest after the late Popat’s eldest son Azim, who is based in Canada, filed a suit in a Nairobi court accusing his younger brother Adil of denying him his rightful share of their father’s vast estate comprising of prime properties, shares in family-owned companies and massive amounts of money kept in numerous tax havens around the world.
At the centre of the succession war are some Sh500 million worth of shares in the family’s flagship asset Simba Corporation, which Azim says his brother Adil, who doubles as the company’s chief executive and majority shareholder, has taken from him.
Simba Corporation owns Simba Motors, Nairobi’s five-star Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel and several prime real estate companies.
The Simba Corporation chairman is also accused of hiding from his siblings several prime parcels of land in Portugal and Canada, companies in Portugal, England, trusts and bank accounts their father opened in tax havens like Guernsey, Gibraltar, the British Virgin Islands and Dubai.
But Adil says in response that his elder brother had a strained relationship with their father and is claiming property he is not entitled to according to their father’s will.
Azim has questioned the authenticity of the will that Nairobi law firm Anjarwalla & Khanna drew and presented as his father’s — and wants it quashed.
The Canada-based Popat has also accused his younger brother Adil of coercing their mother into preparing a will that leaves all her property to the Nairobi-based son, including property she held in trust for Azim.
He reckons that if the contested will is allowed to stand, Adil would inherit Sh2.5 billion from their father — far more than his Sh820 million.
Azim’s son, Jameel is also included in the patriarch’s will and would be entitled to Sh338 million if the contested document stands.
“When I recently visited Kenya, despite Adil’s attempts to prevent a meeting, I met my mother in Mombasa and in Nairobi. My mother informed me that she held 34,790 shares in Simba Motors (worth Sh49 million) and 2.26 million shares in Simba Corporation (worth Sh385 million) and was not aware that she had transferred the same to Adil,” Azim says in suit papers, adding that his efforts to persuade Adil to come to an amicable settlement on the matter have been unsuccessful.
“I have incurred substantial costs flying to Kenya over 14 times in order to resolve matters,” he adds.
Adil says in court documents that the relationship between his elder brother, Azim, and their father had soured by the time of Popat Senior’s death and that the family patriarch did not therefore want his elder son to have an equal stake in the family business empire.
Azim holds that their father was a stern figure who involved himself in both the personal and business lives of all his children and that there were no grudges between him and any of the sons.
Popat Senior died in 2013, leaving a massive business empire to his sons.
The youngest son Alnashir’s business empire has, however, been on a downward spiral in recent months after its crown jewel Imperial Bank collapsed last September under the weight of a Sh34 billion fraud.
Among the offshore properties at the centre of the vicious battle of the Popat siblings are Almancil Settlement (a trust in Guernsey), Gibraltar firm Seagrace Limited, Virgin Islands-based firms Penrose Properties and Millgate Limited, a share portfolio called UBS in Switzerland, a trust in Dubai, bank accounts in Switzerland and two beach plots in Portugal and Canada.
The late Popat also owned 200 shares in Thames Water, the private utility company responsible for the public water supply and waste water treatment in parts of London, the Thames Valley and several parts of the United Kingdom.
Also on the list of properties in the family business empire are a travel agency called Rossitur and an import-export company Popafar Limitada in Portugal.
Azim now claims that Adil has kept from his siblings several other properties his father owned and whose worth can only be confirmed by ongoing investigations into the extent of the Popat business empire.
The succession battle, which is being fought in the Mombasa High Court’s family division, has also revealed that Alnashir may have been given Imperial Bank and a host of other real estate properties as compensation for his exclusion from Simba Corporation.
“In 2007 my brother Alnashir disagreed with my father and Adil regarding Alnsashir’s role in Simba Colt Motors. The said disagreement did not, however, stop my father from later reconciling with Alnashir and making provision for him in other group companies, including the family stake in Imperial Bank Limited and some real estate entities although I am not privy to the full settlement,” Azim adds.
Alnashir has also sued Adil in the Royal Court of Guernsey in another fight over their father’s property in the tax haven.
Azim and his father ventured into the hotel business in Canada where they built the 17-floor Plaza 500 Hotel in Vancouver for CAN$14.2 million (Sh1.1 billion) in 1995. The hotel has since been converted into a block of apartments.
The Canada-based Popat claims that his younger brother took over the two companies his father had used to venture into the business —Penrose and Millgate —and used them to arm-twist him into approving Adil as the administrator of their father’s multibillion-shilling estate.
Azim says he approached Millgate and Penrose nominee trustees to sign a subordination consent, which would acknowledge that his stake in Plaza 500 is larger than the two companies’ but Adil blocked the move.
“I did establish that Adil, sensing my desperation to save the hotel and my family’s considerable investment in it, had instructed the nominees not to accede to the subordination consent until I executed a consent document to pave the way for the confirmation of grant of probate. I would never have acceded to confirmation of the grant had it not been for the said arm-twisting,” Azim says.