Monday, June 25, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Claims panel invites Lahore family
New controversy over Catherine’s bank account
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 24
The first order by the Claims Resolution Tribunal for Dormant Accounts in Switzerland on the dormant bank account of Princess Catherine Duleep Singh has generated yet another controversy with the tribunal deciding to invite a third person — Pir Karim Baksh Supra of Lahore — as another possible heir of the Princess.

The new controversy is all the more significant as the Punjab Government, one of seven claimants to the dormant account, has undertaken a year-long programme to celebrate the tercentenary of the coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, grandfather of Princess Catherine Duleep Singh, during the current year.

The Punjab Government plans to organise a big function in Lahore (Pakistan) — the then capital of the Maharaja’s empire — where Princess Saba, a sister of Princess Catherine Duleep Singh, was buried by Pir Karim Baksh Supra after her death in 1957. She had no issue.

The claims tribunal wants the Punjab Government to send copies of all relevant statutes and the case law invoked in support of the argument that the State of Punjab should inherit the assets of the account holder.

Lt-Col Kanwar Karan Vir Singh (retd) has decided to challenge the order of the tribunal to invite a third party, another possible heir to the property, to participate in the proceedings on a number of grounds. Other claimants are also believed to have raised objections to inviting Pir Karim Baksh Supra as a possible heir to the dormant account.

The bank — UBS AG — stated before the tribunal that the account was dormant and identified the assets as follows:

A. No. Type of Account

Value as of November 9, 1998

10-3,903.0 Current Account 

1,583.30 Swiss francs

10-3,903.1 Savings Account  1,31,380.20 Swiss francs

The bank also made available to the tribunal information form and a client information sheet dated February, 1927; a power of attorney document signed by account holder Catherine Duleep Singh dated September 6, 1938; a letter from Catherine Duleep Singh to the bank dated December 14, 1937; and various other related documents.

Besides, the tribunal has asked the claimants — Dr Gerda Schaefer, Hendrik Schmidt, Noni Singh (Mrs Ranjit) Kaur, Lt-Col Kanwar Karan Vir Singh, Meet Pal Singh, Francis Hoare and the Government of Punjab — to file their comments with regard to the preliminary finding of the claims panel that Princess Bamba intended Pir Karim Baksh Supra to be her sole beneficiary; a will, testament, inheritance certificate or other information, or documents demonstrating their entitlement to the account; and any other comment that they may have on the submission of the other claimants.

Between August, 1997, and March, 1998, the bank had received claim forms to the dormant account of Princess Catherine Duleep Singh and Lina Schaefer. The Bank and the claimants signed Claims Resolution agreements, thereby agreeing that their claims would be resolved by the tribunal in accordance with the Rules.

Professor H.M. Riemer, Chairman of the tribunal, appointed Judge Thomas Buergenthal Chairperson and Prof Franz Kellerhals and the Rt Hon The Lord Higgins co-arbitrators.

Under Article 21 of the Rules, the claims panel may invite a third party — such as another possible heir — to participate in a proceeding if it deems it appropriate. In this case, Pir Karim Baksh Supra was identified as a beneficiary in the last will and testament of Princess Bamba Sophia Jindan Sutherland, the sister of Princess Catherine Duleep Singh.

The claims panel has been informed that Pir Karim Baksh Supra is deceased, but five of his eight children — Akbar, Pir Muhammad Akram, Aslam Pirzada, Afzal and Muhammad Anwar Pirzada — are alive. Since the panel has no information about the legal heirs of the three deceased children of Pir Karim Baksh Supra, it wants that the five living children be invited to join the proceedings.

The claims panel has accepted that Princess Catherine Duleep Singh was an Indian princess and daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last ruler of Punjab. Account holder Lina Schaefer was Catherine’s governess and continued to live with the Princess. She died on August 26, 1937.

The tribunal, in its preliminary finding, also held that Francis Hoare, who claimed that his maternal great aunt, Lady Anne Coventry, was married to Catherine Duleep Singh’s eldest brother, Prince Victor Duleep Singh, to make him the great-nephew of the account holder, was not directly related to the account holder as Prince Victor Duleep Singh died before Princess Catherine. So, the tribunal held that he does not appear to have a legal right of inheritance to the account.

— To be concluded


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