Karim Hirji
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The six-year long legal battle between City tycoon Karim Hirji and his three step children; Ronald Birungi, Linda Birungi, and Anita Birungi over property that belonged to their late mother Ziba Nanyonga Hirji has taken a new twist.

UK’s Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has now kicked off investigations into professional conduct of the firm, which tycoon Hirji says drew his wife’s Will that is now a source of fight between him and his stepchildren.

Ziba Nanyonga Hirji died in a London hospital on February 8, 2004, after a long battle with cancer.

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Karim Hirji took over the estate of his late wife on November 19, 2004, after the High Court in Kampala handed him letters of administration. The letters of administration were handed to Karim Hirji after he presented a Will dated January 6, 2004. The Will is said to have been drawn by UK law firm Evans Dodd Solicitors.

Karim Hirji and Mr Joseph Ssempebwa, a worker and family confidant, were named as Trustees of his late wife’s estate, while Ms Anisha, Nabila, and Karima, Karim Hirji’s three children with late Ziba Nanyonga, were listed as the only beneficiaries.

But Ziba Nanyonga’s three older children disputed the said Will, arguing that it was forged. The three are Karim Hirji’s stepchildren.

At the heart of the conflict is the ownership and control of several properties in downtown Kampala, Nansana, Bugolobi, Kamwokya, Nakulabye and Gayaza.

The matter is already before the High Court as civil suit No. 238 of 2015, which Ms Birungi and her siblings filed against Mr Hirji and Mr Ssempebwa, contesting the will and alleging that it was forged.

William Byaruhanga who is listed as a key witness in the case.

Mr Hirji and his co-accused filed their defense through their lawyers, MMAKS Advocates and AF Mpanga Advocates in January 2015, listing the Attorney General, Mr William Byaruhanga and businessman Mr Patrick Bitature as witnesses.

Ms Birungi and her siblings have in the meantime taken the fight to the UK.

“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,” Ms Linda Birungi, the eldest of Mr Hirji’s step children wrote in the September 12, 2020, petition that she filed on behalf of her siblings, Ms Anita and Mr Ronnie Birungi.

Ms Linda Birungi says that if at all the firm drew up the contested will, it did not follow the right procedures.

“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.

Ms Linda Birungi also accused the firm of having transferred two of her late mothers’ properties to Mr Karim Hirji’s company for nil consideration.

“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,” she wrote.

Now, in other documents, which were seen by Daily Monitor, SRA has decided to investigate circumstances surrounding the Will after conducting interviews with former partners of the firm.

The SRA is an arm of the Law Society, which was formed in January 2007 under the auspices of the Legal Services Act. It is responsible for regulating the professional conduct of more than 125,000 solicitors and more than 11,000 law firms in England and Wales.

It also regulates registered European lawyers, foreign lawyers and non-lawyers who are managers or employees of an authorised body.

The firm, Evans Dodd Solicitors, merged with Adams Remers (A&R) on March 31, 2018, but lawyers who were working with the firm in January 2004 when the contested will was reportedly written were interviewed.

SRA is now expected to out a report of its investigations before the end of June.

Constitutional Lawyer, Mr Dan Wandera Ogalo says the outcome of the SRA’s investigation will have a direct impact on both the administration of the estate of the late Ziba Nanyonga Hirji and the civil suit that Ms Birungi and her siblings filed against Mr Hirji and Mr Ssempebwa.

Should the SRA establish that Evans Dodd Solicitors acted unethically and that the Will was forged, Mr Ogalo said, Ms Birungi will have grounds to cause court to revoke the letters of administration that were granted to Mr Hirji and Mr Ssempebwa.

“They would have to make an application to revoke the grant. There are provisions which allow you to bring proceedings to revoke the grant. If you satisfy the court that the grant should out not have been given then the court will recall it and revoke it,” Mr Ogalo said.