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Brunei Town

Luck against widow as High Court dismisses business claims

Fadley Faisal

The High Court on April 7 handed a decision in resolving a dispute in a business claims arising out of a family estate claims in a civil suit.

The plaintiff and appellant Kusum Devi is represented by lawyer Lieutenant Colonel (Rtd) Harif Ibrahim of his own firm.

The defendants and respondents are Sri Krishna and another, represented by Messrs Shirley Ng and Partners’ lawyer Shirley Ng.

Judicial Commissioner Edward Timothy Starbuck Woolley presided over the appeal.

Kusum Devi is the widow and administrator of the estate of her late husband Lakshmi Prasad, who passed on October 10, 2017.

She claims from the defendants a share of the assets and income of the business run by her late husband and Sri Krishna.

The High Court shared the background of the claims where a man named Ram Dhani came to Brunei from India sometime in 1972 with his eldest son to work and later started a business selling groceries and catering, as well as ladies’ garments and a tailoring shop.

The business operated on rented premises at the Gurkha regiment British Army in Seria.

The eldest son died in 1979, and Ram Dhani asked his second son Lakshmi Prasad to join him. Later in 1983, his next son Sri Krishna joined the business.

The business was registered in 1984 for the first time trading under the name and style of Ram Dhani Family Canteen Contractor with himself as the sole proprietor.

Lakshmi Prasad and Sri Krishna were registered as workers under the labour quota. In 1986, Lakshmi Prasad and Sri Krishna were added as partners into the business.

Later in 1988, the second defendant who had been an unofficial partner from the start was registered as a partner, only because he was a Brunei permanent resident and asked for no part in it and no financial interest.

Ram Dhani eventually retired, returned to India and left the business to Lakshmi Prasad.

In 2016, Lakshmi Prasad died leaving Sri Krishna the sole surviving partner and ran the business.

Kusum Devi applied for her name to be registered as the partner, but it proved impossible as she was not a Brunei permanent resident.

She then claimed for 50 per cent ownership of the business as a beneficiary. She also claimed BND200,000 withdrawn from the account of the business on the day after Lakshmi’s death.

Sri Krishna counter claimed saying that he was a partner with Lakshmi Prasad and that upon his death, he succeeded as a sole proprietor.

The court also noted the plaintiff’s claim for one of the firm’s vehicles.

Among other things, money from the business was dealt with on a cash-to-cash basis and is usually used by the namesake’s family to their own interests.

Justice Woolley dismissed the plaintiff’s claim for 50 per cent ownership in the operating business on the grounds that the business was a partnership between Lakshmi Prasad and
Sri Krishna.

The surviving partner is privy to be the sole proprietor.

The court also decided that the BND200,000 withdrawn by Sri Krishna’s children with the consent of the second defendant, for the purposes of avoiding frozen assets upon the death of a partner, for the reason to be able to continue paying bills in the firm’s interests, was dismissed as the firm’s money is the company’s asset belonging to the sole proprietorship – Sri Krishna.

The vehicle in question as with all the other vehicles are assets of the firm and is wholly owned by Sri Krishna.

Justice Woolley concluded his decision by ordering the defendants’ costs to be taxed if not agreed.

The second defendant’s costs was ordered on a full indemnity basis.

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