Controversial Zimbabwe-based business mogul of Asian origin Jayesh Shah has been accused of killing a wealthy Zambian doctor, Nalini Desai, and disposing of her estate without the knowledge of her relatives.
But the tycoon in an interview this week denied the allegations and insisted he was appointed by the Zambian High Court as administrator to Desai’s estate after she was found dead at her home in Northmead, Lusaka, in 2007.
Zambia police have since failed to find her killers and have exonerated Shah. Desai was 48 years old, single and had no children.
She was staying alone while running a private clinic.
Online media reports in October, November and December last year claimed that the Zambian police had summoned Shah over the matter after Desai’s sisters from India fingered him as the killer and alleged he had looted the estate.
“Indeed they (the sisters) have called me the murderer,” Shah said on Tuesday in written responses to questions posed. “I have invited these purported sisters to sue me either in Zambia or Zimbabwe or even India and they are yet to serve me with any summons.”
He said the sisters were demanding $50 million from him.
Sources close to Shah said the businessman claimed the sisters had devised a “well-planned scheme to extort money” from him and that he had received many threats over the phone.
The sources said Shah had lodged a formal complaint with the Zambian Police Cyber Unit over the threats.
Shah made headlines in 2006 locally as the state’s star witness in the high-profile corruption case involving the then Zupco board chairman Charles Nherera and chief executive officer Bright Matonga.
He led evidence in the first case that resulted in the conviction and jailing of Nherera for two years for soliciting an $85 000 bribe from Shah’s Gift Investments firm in order to facilitate a contract to supply buses.
The Supreme Court later quashed Nherera’s conviction and sentence way after he had served time.
Matonga was also accused of receiving a $20 000 bribe from Shah but he was later acquitted.
According to Zambia media reports, Desai was Shah’s friend and had vehicles, jewellery and cash in bank accounts estimated to be worth $50 million.
The reports say Shah was appointed by the High Court as the administrator of Desai’s estate after no next of kin came forward.
However, three years after Desai’s death, two women from India who claimed to be sisters to Desai accused Shah of lying before the courts that the late doctor had no relatives.
They suspected Shah murderered their sister to take over Desai’s estate.
One of the sisters, Bharati Shivakumar Kanaiya, according to the reports, accused Shah of misleading the Zambian High Court when he was appointed administrator.
“On hearing the news of the brutal murder, after passing through all the legal and visa procedures, one of my younger sisters had been to Lusaka. But when she came there Mr Jayesh Shah did not allow her to enter the house of the deceased at Northmead in Lusaka and compelled her to leave Lusaka,” Kanaiya was quoted as having said.
“All the proof about her arrival in Lusaka are with the High Commission of India too. Further you or anybody should not expect all the relatives or the legal heirs from India to attend the funeral which was conducted within 2-3 days. Mr Jayesh Shah of Gift Investments of Harare in Zimbabwe is not related to the deceased or to us. He has falsely claimed in the High Court of Zambia and elsewhere that there are no legal claimants to the deceased, to obtain the said order to appoint himself as the executor for the properties of the deceased. He has misguided the High Court and has misrepresented the matter in the High Court of Zambia.”
The deceased’s sisters reportedly said it would be expensive for them to travel to Zambia to start legal proceedings and the matter was referred to Zambia Legal Resources Foundation (ZLRF) – a human rights organisation.
However, a source at ZLRF said on Wednesday their organisation had been about to give “instructions” on the case, but had stopped after one of their lawyers, Paul Mulenga, who was assigned to the matter resigned.
The sources referred questions to Mulenga.
Mulenga confirmed to the Zimbabwe Independent on Wednesday that he had initially been assigned to the case while he was still with ZLRF but no longer had anything to do with it.
“I am no longer working on that case. The case was communicated to me at the time I was still at the Legal Resources Foundation but I then resigned before I had a chance to seriously look at it,” he said.
“By the time I left the Legal Resources Foundation, I understand they had shelved the case. I don’t know now if they have resumed it. The best people to talk to would be them.”
However, Shah said he owed Desai a “friendship debt” and rubbished the sisters’ allegations that he was a suspect.
“Zambian police are still waiting for a complainant to file a formal complaint. However, if you can give me a Zambian police case reference number it would be helpful,” he said.
He said he was made administrator by the Zambian courts and those who wished to contest that should approach the courts.
Shah questioned the sudden appearance of Desai’s sisters three years after her death and did not understand why they were fighting him.
“I am honestly unable to answer this and would not like to speculate on their intentions. However if you do find the answer please forward me the same. Indeed they have called me the murderer,” said Shah.
He said he was not aware whether they had made a report to the ZLRF although he said he invited them to sue him in Zimbabwe, Zambia or India.
Efforts to get a comment from the Zambian police spokesperson were fruitless while questions sent to the Zambia Police Commissioner via email went unanswered at the time of going to print.