Real Estate

India pharma mogul Cyrus Poonawalla buys Mumbai mansion

James Crabtree
A view of the seaside mansion which was used as the U.S. consulate from 1957, and later renamed Lincoln House, is seen in Mumbai, India, September 14, 2015. Vaccine billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla has bought the former maharaja's mansion in Mumbai from the U.S. government for around 7.5 billion rupees ($113 million), newspapers reported, making it the most expensive ever residential purchase in the country.
Shailesh Andrade | Reuters

A sprawling seaside mansion in Mumbai, whose former owners include the US government and an Indian Maharaja, has been sold for Rs7.5 billion ($113 million) in the most expensive residential property deal in India's history.

Lincoln House, a 50,000 square-foot heritage mansion located in the heart of the country's financial capital, was bought by pharmaceutical mogul Cyrus Poonawalla, who plans to use it as a family residence.

The purchase is likely to exacerbate a sense of yawning inequalities in Mumbai, a city where a handful of prominent plutocrats own homes with price tags to rival London or New York, while roughly half of its 21 million population still live in slums.

It also marks the latest foray into super prime property for the Poonawalla family, which attempted to acquire London's Grosvenor House hotel last year.

Its plush new residence, named after the 16th American president, until recently housed Mumbai's US Consulate. It was previously known as Wankaner House, after the Maharaja of Wankaner, a minor aristocrat, who sold it in 1957.

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Adar Poonawalla, Mr Poonawalla's eldest son, who led negotiations over the purchase, told the Financial Times that it was "by far the most expensive" deal for a single residential building in India.

"You might see a lot of these types of properties in London, but in India there has been nothing like it for years. It has location, it has history, it has size, so it was worth the money," he said.

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Cyrus Poonawalla, who is ranked as India's 13th richest person by Forbes, and whose business interests range from medical vaccines to horseracing, will not be able to claim the mantle as the owner of the country's most expensive home. That title is held by his fellow billionaire and neighbour Mukesh Ambani, India's wealthiest tycoon.

In 2010, Mr Ambani completed Antilia, a 27-storey residential skyscraper about a kilometre from Lincoln House. Antilia was estimated to cost at least $500m.

Even so, Mr Poonawalla's deal is nearly double the size of any earlier home sale in India, and also follows a string of eye-catching purchases by other prominent industrialists.

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Anuj Puri, chairman of property group JLL India, said it easily surpassed the previous record deal — last month's $64 million purchase of another heritage mansion in Mumbai by billionaire Kumar Birla.

The Lincoln House deal illustrates the continued strength of India's super-prime market, despite a property downturn linked to the country's economic slowdown. Complex property rules also bar wealthy foreigners from house purchases in cities such as Mumbai and New Delhi, draining away the demand that has fuelled housing bubbles in other global cities.

"Whether it is London or Mumbai, prime property is always worth it," says Adar Poonawalla. "And anyway, almost everyone who matters in Mumbai knows this building, because we've all had to go there to deal with getting visas to America. So it is iconic for that reason too."