New Delhi: His business successes which started with the international distribution rights for the Bollywood blockbuster movie ‘Sangam’ in 1964 made him one of the richest in Britain but it was the Bofors scam that made Srichand Parmanand Hinduja famous, or rather infamous, back home.
SP Hinduja, as he was known, died in London on Wednesday after a prolonged illness. He was 87, a family spokesperson said.
Born in a business family in Karachi, British India, he and his two younger brothers were accused of receiving payments totalling Rs 64 crore in illegal commissions to help Swedish gunmaker AB Bofors secure an Indian government contract. All three – Srichand, Gopichand, and Prakash Hinduja, were however exonerated by the Delhi High Court in 2005.
SP Hinduja, the eldest of four brothers and chairman of Hinduja Group, lost his wife, Madhu, in January this year. She was 82. He is survived by his daughters, Shanu and Vinoo.
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The Hinduja empire was started by Parmanand Deepchand Hinduja, who traded goods in the Sindh region of India (now Pakistan) before moving to Iran in 1919. In 1964, SP Hinduja distributed Raj Kapoor-starred ‘Sangam’ movie through the Middle-East markets which helped him earn his first million dollars.
And when Indira Gandhi had a disagreement with the Shah of Iran over high oil prices, SP and his brothers used the offer of the Iranian monarch to increase Indian exports to the Persian Gulf nation, shipping iron ores to commodities.
In 1980, they acquired a stake in Indian truck and bus manufacturer Ashok Leyland. They also took control of the Gulf Oil International Company from Chevron Corp to venture into the oils and lubricants business.
In 1993, SP Hinduja ventured into banking, with IndusInd Bank. The then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh was invited to the inauguration of the bank.
In the following year, he founded the only Indian-owned Swiss bank, S P Hinduja Banquee Privee, which has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. With branches in Zurich, London, and Dubai, the bank offers investment advisory and wealth management services to big businessmen and entrepreneurial clients.
All this happened at a time when the Bofors scandal rocked India. The Rs 1,437 crore deal for the supply of 400 units of 155 mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army was entered into on March 24, 1986.
Swedish Radio on April 16, 1987, claimed that the company had paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel. CBI registered a case against Martin Arbdo, the then president of AB Bofors, alleged middleman Win Channda, and the Hinduja brothers.
The Hinduja brothers were exonerated in 2005 due to a lack of evidence.
The brothers who have been intensely secretive about the size of their wealth, have been sparring in British courts over control of family assets.
The family is however more open about its political ties and has had close relationships with a host of world leaders, ranging from the late Shah of Iran to George Bush Sr and Tony Blair.
In 2006, the Hinduja brothers spent USD 58 million on a 25-bedroom mansion on London’s Carlton House Terrace Street which is down the Mall from Buckingham Palace.
”Gopichand, Prakash, Ashok, and the whole Hinduja family with a heavy heart regret to announce the passing away of our family patriarch, and Chairman of the Hinduja Group, Mr. S P Hinduja today,” the family spokesperson said in a statement.
It described him as a ”visionary and mentor to the family bestowing the founding principles and values of our late father, PD Hinduja.
”He played a very important role alongside his brothers in building a strong relationship between his host country, the UK, and his home country, India,” it said.
”A titan amongst his peers, S P Hinduja truly lived and embodied the Hinduja Group’s founding principles and values. A deeply spiritual and philanthropic person, he was courageous in action and generous at heart.
His loss has left a huge void as the brothers have always been four bodies and one soul, the statement said. ”The Hinduja family is in grief and sorrow at his demise. Our prayers to the Almighty to grant his soul eternal place at His Lotus Feet.”