8 APRIL 2003
A £50-million legacy left by the Shah of Iran's second wife is being passed on to the German government, after claimants to the fortune were found to be impostors.
Soraya Esfandiary Bakhtiary left her vast legacy, which had been bestowed on her by the Shah, to her brother Prince Bijan, but he himself passed away just a week after his sibling. Since he died intestate and left no direct descendant, the local government of Cologne, where he lived, appealed for relatives to come forward and claim the estate.
Some 50 people have since had their petitions rejected and the authorities are now set to hand the fortune over to the state government. The legacy includes money raised, in accordance with Soraya's will, on several of her personal possessions. Items including a Rolls Royce Silver Spur, a fabulous Bulgari sapphire necklace worth well over a million pounds, and the exquisite platinum and diamond engagement ring given to her by the Shah, were sold off at auction after Prince Bijan's death.
"The case of the former Empress Soraya is treated just like any other, but of course the amount of money is much higher than the amount we usually get," said a spokesman for the North Rhine Westphalia Finance Office. "We will be able to put it to good use, although it will not be possible to say exactly what we will use it for. It will just go into the general pool, for the benefit of everyone."
This final chapter to the Soraya story is poignantly fitting for the woman who came to be known as "the sad Empress". She married Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1951 but he divorced her just a few years later for failing to produce an heir. The princess never married again and her second significant relationship ended in tragedy when her partner, Italian filmmaker Franco Indovina, died in a plane crash in 1972. Soraya herself died at her flat in Paris in 2001.