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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Ex-billionaire Shivinder Singh sues brother amid Religare probe

Heirs to a generations-old business house once worth billions, the brothers have in recent months seen a dramatic fall in their fortunes

Fortis Hospital in Gurgaon, India. Fortis is part of the Singh empire subject to investigation. Getty Images
Fortis Hospital in Gurgaon, India. Fortis is part of the Singh empire subject to investigation. Getty Images

The unravelling of one of India’s most storied business empires has caused a rupture in its founding family, with one of the Singh brothers saying he has sued the other for "oppression and mismanagement" of their companies.

Shivinder Singh said he filed a case with India’s National Company Law Tribunal against his elder brother Malvinder and Sunil Godhwani, former chairman of Religare Enterprises, the financial services company the brothers used to control.

Mr Shivinder claims Mr Malvinder and Mr Godhwani were to blame for “a systematic undermining of the interests of the companies and their shareholders”. Mr Malvinder, 45, and Mr Godhwani could not be reached for comment.

“I am now disassociating from my brother as a business partner and will be pursuing an independent path,” Mr Shivinder, 43, said on Monday. "I can no longer be party to activities in which transparency and ethics are continuously and consistently negated."

Heirs to a generations-old business house once worth billions, the brothers have in recent months seen a dramatic fall in their fortunes. They’ve had their public shareholdings seized by lenders and are under a criminal probe by financial authorities over $321 million (Dh1.17bn) missing from their listed companies. They owe $500m over fraud allegations related to the 2008 sale of drug maker Ranbaxy Laboratories.

The brothers have denied any wrongdoing.

Last month, news broke of the business links between the brothers and Gurinder Singh Dhillon, head of a spiritual sect in North India called the Radha Soami Satsang Beas.

These included loans to Mr Dhillon’s family and companies controlled by them, which were found to be a key financial strain on their empire. Mr Dhillon has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

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Mr Shivinder said he filed the case against his brother and Mr Godhwani after media articles.

"Attempts to pass the buck to an eminent figure, who has been a guiding light not only to our family but also to a large section of the public, deceives no one," Mr Shivinder said. He said Malvinder was chairman of their corporate group and made decisions on behalf of the family, while he was "the publicly supportive younger brother".

The Singhs are famous in India for expanding their two public firms, hospital operator Fortis Healthcare and financial firm Religare, at breakneck speed after reaping $2bn from the sale of Ranbaxy, then India’s largest drug maker. Both companies went on to top $1bn in market value as India’s demand for health and financial services surged.

India’s stock market and fraud regulators have launched investigations into financial irregularities at Religare and Fortis, although they are yet to report their findings. In July, Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare agreed to take control of Fortis and minority shareholders have taken over at Religare.

The Singhs resigned from their posts at Fortis in February. They have lost almost all of their shareholdings in Fortis and Religare as their lenders called in unpaid debts.