The Madras high court has started putting effort to unravel the mystery of Pandya wealth, rumoured to be lying scattered all across India, besides London, Paris and Switzerland. A division bench of Justices P Jyothimani and M Duraiswamy has also sought to unearth the origin of a ‘will’ of a Pandya descendant in favour of a ‘distant relative’ who claims he has a letter of administration from the high court to manage the royal family’s assets.
The matter relates to the “will” of Pandya descendant Varagunarama Pandiya Chinna Thambiyar, the eldest son of last zamindar of Sivagiri, allegedly executed on May 19, 1992 in favour of a distant relative, N Jagannathan. Sivagiri zamin (estate) is a remnant of the vast Pandya empire. Varagunarama Pandiyan died six days later, on May 25, 1992.
After probating the Pandya will in the high court, Jagannathan obtained a letter of administration for some properties in October 2003 and sent it to Switzerland, allegedly to retrieve ‘huge assets’ lying in the vaults of a Swiss bank. For this, he enlisted the services of Swiss national Giuseppe Leopoldo Cessina, who was a fund manager in Switzerland.
After the legal heirs of the zamin raised objections and filed applications, a single judge cancelled the letter of administration, and Jagannathan filed an appeal against the revocation. While Jagannathan has furnished a list of 108 properties in the city at present, another legal heir, Padmini Rani, sought court’s help to identify the zamin’s private properties.
On Tuesday, while cross-examining Jagannathan and his counsel Chockalingam, the bench raised several questions. The court wanted to know how a will in favour of a distant relative surfaced six days after Thambiyar’s death; how the high court probated it; how the court issued a letter of administration; how it had to revoke it after a real heir raised an objection; are the zamin’s riches lying unclaimed in Swiss bank vaults; does the government of India possess the ‘secret code’ to unlock the vaults? It also wanted to know why the letter of administration was not returned despite its revocation and orders directing its surrender. At the end of the day, there were more questions than answers.
Chockalingam insisted that before 1947 the British regime deposited ‘huge assets’ in Swiss vaults under the trust account of the zamin, and that the government possessed a secret code. This was confided to his client by Varagunarama Pandiya himself, he said.
Despite Justice Jyothimani’s warning that the duo could face penal action besides the lawyer being debarred, Chockalingam said he was “100% sure” that Sivagiri wealth was in Swiss banks and that he had no knowledge as to how another claimant, Vidhya Patwarthan, managed to purchase properties worth Rs 2 crore on ECR. As arguments remained inconclusive, the bench then adjourned it to July 16.