Asia Life

U.S. $1 Billion Malabar Fortune: The Search for an Heir Continues

The governments of India and Saudi Arabia are searching for the heir to a U.S. $1 billion fortune.

Jonathan DeHart

It reads like a fairy tale: On the Malabar Coast along India’s southwestern shore, the Arakkal and Keyi families have engaged in an ongoing feud since the days of the British Raj.

The Arakkals were the rulers of the realm, in which the Keyis (Persian for “Ship Owner”) amassed a massive fortune through the shipping routes they ran between India and Arabia as part of the English East India Company during the Raj. A condensed version of the Keyi family’s illustrious history can be read here.

Over the centuries, the families attempted to intermarry and ease tensions as the Sultan of Arakkal had become jealous of the Keyis’ good fortune. But such alliances never formed and the rivalry festered.

According to a report in The Telegraph yesterday, these old tensions were roused once again when the Indian government announced it is searching for the rightful heir to U.S. $1 billion as compensation from the government of Saudi Arabia for destroying Mayankutty Keyi’s bungalow in Mecca. The Keyis were among one of three families from India to own properties in Mecca – the others were the Nizams of Hyderabad and the Nawabs of Arcot.

As one of the major Muslim clans of India’s southwestern state of Kerala, many of the Keyis’ friends and family members made the trip to Mecca to perform Hajj. This fact inspired Mayankutty to commission the building of a domicile for family and friends to stay during their pilgrimage.

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At the time the Saudis razed the bungalow in 1971, it was valued at U.S. $100 million. Today, its value is an estimated U.S. $1 billion (or 5,000 Crores). There has been talk of rebuilding the Keyi Rubath bungalows, built in 1848 at Haram Sherief near Ka’aba. The Saudi government initially took over the buildings 70 years ago as they expanded the Ka’aba.

Although a member of the Keyi family commissioned the building of the structure, the Arakkals are also attempting to claim the prize. According to a report in The Times of India, some 45 descendants of the ruling family plan to stake a claim, based on the fact that Mayankutty Keyi had married Arakkal Beevi of the matrilineal Arakkal family. The Saudis have been in talks with India about releasing the money since 1988, but have been held back by technicalities until now.

The Kerala state government has appointed Mr. T.O. Sooraj to negotiate between the Ministry of External Affairs and the Saudi government as the search for the rightful heir continues.

“So far we have not found a direct heir of Mayankutty,” Sooraj told The Telegraph.

He added in an interview with the Times of Oman, “We are now collecting as many documents as possible to stake a claim on firm grounds. I will be in touch with the family, the central government, and the Saudi government to pursue the matter. We may have to visit Saudi Arabia for this.”

In other words, the search continues.