In a move that stunned her surviving family members, one of India’s richest women left her entire estate to her accountant, who was also in the possession of the will at the time of her death last week, the British Broadcasting Company reported.
The Birla family presides over one of India’s richest corporate empires, thought to be worth in total around $8.8 billion. Priyamvada Birla, the widow of a cousin of family patriarch BK Birla, left company assets worth about 50bn rupees (or $1.1 billion) to accountant Rajendra Lodha.
BK Birla and his family told the BBC they are in perfect harmony on the need to challenge the bequest to a "complete outsider."
Lodha may be a family outsider but he’s no stranger to the inner workings of the Birla empire, having won several court battles on behalf of the Birlas. He reportedly has a significant understanding of the company’s inner workings.
Priyamvada Birla's husband, Madhav Prasad Birla, died in 1990 and the couple had no children. She ran the MP Birla group of companies after his death, until her own death last week at the age of 76, the BBC reported.
Lodha, who opened the will on Monday, was not available for comment. He is a leading chartered accountant whose firm audits most of the Birla companies. It is unusual for the beneficiary to be in possession of the will and family members were described as "astonished" when Lodha opened the will at the Birla’s family home in Calcutta, known as Birla Park.
The will names Lodha as the inheritor of the entire assets and management control of MP Birla.
BK Birla said: "The family members have examined the will and the consensus is that we have the moral and legal right to challenge the validity of the will."
The Birlas have hired two Calcutta-based solicitor's firms, Khaitan & Co and NG Khaitan & Co, to draw up legal action. Sources at Khaitan & Co say a legal notice is likely to be served in a day or two to stop Lodha from executing the will, the BBC reported.
By inheriting MP Birla, Lodha also gets a 25 percent interest in Pilani Investments, which has a shareholding in many Birla companies. That fact has the Birlas worried.
"If Lodha is not challenged, he will get to interfere all across the Birla empire, by virtue of his stake in Pilani," business analyst Tamal Majumder told the BBC.