Home » Ugandan textile mogul Karim Hirji faces off with stepkids in British property war

Ugandan textile mogul Karim Hirji faces off with stepkids in British property war

by Ishioma Emi

The British Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has launched an investigation into the professional conduct of law firm Evans Dodds Solicitors, which was said to have drawn up the long-contested will of Barbra Ziba Nanyonga Hirji, the late wife of Ugandan multimillionaire businessman Karim Hirji. 

Before Ziba married Karim in 1985, she had three children from her first marriage to a wealthy businessman, Joseph Birungi. They include Linda, Anita, and Ronnie Birungi. Her first husband gave her control over numerous properties and estates that he left in her custody for the children. 

Ziba, who is also called “Charms” by many Ugandans, later married Harji. They had three children of their own: Anisha, Nabila and Karima Harji.

The property war began after Ziba’s death in London in February 2004 following a protracted battle with cancer, when Harji brought forward a will drafted by the solicitors.

The will named Karim Hirji and Joseph Ssempebwa as the trustees of Ziba’s estate, while Anisha, Nabila and Karima (Ziba and Karim’s children) were listed as the beneficiaries. This put the management of the estate strictly under Hirji and Ssempebwa’s control, Daily Monitor reported

Ssempebwa was a worker and family confidant of his late wife. 

His stepchildren were not named in the will. They proceeded to file a lawsuit against Hirji over their late mother’s estates in Uganda and in the United Kingdom, claiming the document is fraudulent. 

Linda Birungi, on behalf of her siblings, said: “We contend that the circumstances and process of obtaining the grant of probate to the estate of our late mother was tainted with fraud. The whole process was done so hurriedly and with such secrecy.” The statement was published in a recent report by the Daily Monitor.

She further accuses Evans Dodds of a lack of professionalism in dealing with vulnerable clients. “It is evident that Evans Dodd did not follow specific procedures for Solicitors acting for vulnerable clients to establish effective communication, mental capacity and to avoid undue influence or fraud,” she stated.

She added that “the involvement of Evans Dodds, both in the drafting and execution of the last will and testament of the deceased as solicitor and their simultaneous involvement in the sale and transfer of 7 Roffrey Court Swynford Gardens, London NW4 4XN (property belonging to the deceased) as purchaser’s solicitor/agent, raises issues of conflict of interest.”.

SRA, which is responsible for regulating the professional conduct of over 100,000 solicitors and thousands of law firms in England and Wales, has set out to investigate the circumstances surrounding the will. 

The estates under question include three properties in London, a life insurance policy worth £3 million ($4.26 million), two houses in Bugolobi, two properties in Kololo, two shopping malls in Kampala, two properties on Mawanda Road and others in Nansana and Gayaza.

Karim Hirji

Karim Hirji is one of Uganda’s richest men. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, he began trading in textiles and alcoholic beverages in central Kampala. He is estimated to be worth $800 million as of 2019 and one of Uganda’s wealthiest. 

His company, Dembe Enterprises, expanded into the Dembe Group of Companies with interests in media (Dembe FM), automobile dealerships, finance and insurance, amusement parks and a chain of hotels under the Imperial Hotels Group. He also owns Uganda’s Commercial Bank Towers, which he has renamed Cham Towers.

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