Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 18:08 UK

Talks over Maharajah's millions

Nizam's jewel
The last Nizam had an extraordinary collection of fabulous jewels

India says it will begin negotiations to unfreeze millions of pounds locked up in a London bank vault for over 60 years by a wealthy Maharajah.

In 1948, the last ruler of the princely state of Hyderabad, Osman Ali Khan, deposited 1 million in the UK bank.

The money is now expected to have grown to 30 million.

India has to agree a settlement with Pakistan - as well as 470 bickering descendents of the Nizam of Hyderabad - before the money is released.

"We are re-starting the negotiation process," Kapil Sibal, Indian minister for science and technology, was quoting by news agency Reuters as saying.

"How much should the private beneficiary get and then what should be the distribution between the government of India and Pakistan will be negotiated," Mr Sibal said.

Many claims

The negotiations are to be conducted over 18 months and to involve the Nizam's grandson, now living in a small apartment in Istanbul after losing much of the family fortune.

The Nizam had 86 mistresses and fathered more than 100 illegitimate children, and all their claims will also have to be taken into account.

The last Nizam of Hyderabad was known as the world's richest man, and ruled India's largest princely state.

Jacob's Diamond
Jacob's Diamond is the size of an egg

His fabled wealth included the world-famous Jacob's Diamond - which was the size of an egg - and many pieces of exquisite jewels.

In 1947, when India and Pakistan were created, the Nizam - a Muslim - couldn't decide which country to join.

India annexed his state in 1948 and the Nizam's power waned.

Just before the annexation, the Muslim ruler deposited 1m in an account controlled by Pakistan's High Commissioner to London in the National Westminster Bank.

For 60 years, the money has remained untouched.

India, Pakistan and Nizam's hundreds of heirs have all claimed it as their own.

In 1957, after several rounds of litigation between the Nizam and the Pakistani government, the case reached Britain's House of Lords, which ruled that the account could only be unfrozen with the agreement of all the parties.

Now, that agreement may at last be in prospect.

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