Mauritius: Obituary of Moorari (Mulu) Gujadhur (1958-2023)
Port Louis — The Mauritian Bar has lost a shining star and one of its most courageous advocates. Moorari Gujadhur, affectionately known as Mulu, died on 27th February 2023 in London, United Kingdom, at the age of 64, after a short illness.
Tireless fighter for justice, Mulu was fearless when confronted by unreasonable or overweening authority which he called out every time. He combined a profound understanding of the intricacies of the law with a real strategic sense of how to run a case for his client, talents that were on display in his defence of Mrs Isabelle Maigrot during the case of the murder of Vanessa Lagesse from 2001. He fought relentlessly and against all odds to obtain Mrs Maigrot’s release, even calling the Commissioner of Police as a witness.
Years later, he was proud to represent Mrs Veena Ramgoolam, the wife of the former prime minister, following the 2014 general election.
Intuitive cross-examiner, Mulu could read the pulse of a courtroom and knew how to direct the course of the case to achieve his desired outcome, using wit, a relish for the creole language, and supreme self-confidence so that witnesses who suffered through his fearsome questioning did not quickly forget the experience. His masterly and witty cross-examination of the principal State witness when defending former Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr Dev Jokhoo, in the case of the former prime minister, Dr the Hon. Navin Ramgoolam, and others, as from 2015 was a tour de force in which he demolished the witness’ credibility and with it the entire basis of the State’s case in front of a packed and spellbound courtroom.
Despite his involvement in such prominent cases, including his conduct of the defence of Robert Lesage against the Mauritius Commercial Bank, his challenge of the New Mauritius Hotels group’s restructuring plans, his representation of the Hon. Showkutally Soodhun, and his defence of Angolan banker and businessman, Alvaro Sobrinho, Mulu refused to speak to the press about ongoing cases and was the antithesis of the media-hungry barrister, preferring to let his work speak for itself.
In parallel with his abilities on his feet in court, Mulu developed from the mid-1990s a practice as an international corporate lawyer in the global business sector, in which he allied his fine intellect to a creativity that enabled him to find solutions to what others thought were intractable cases. He was regularly instructed by the Magic Circle and Wall Street international law firms. His mastery of the complexities of prime brokerage law made him the ‘go to’ lawyer in Mauritius used by clients of the calibre of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.
His arguments on the role of public policy in the case of Cruz City v Unitech in 2014, led to the landmark judgement on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards that is referred to internationally in all cases where the issue of public policy is raised.
Representing the Singapore bank, DBS, in the USD 82 million Metalform case in 2006, Mulu successfully argued against a right of pre-emption claimed by a shareholder thus enabling the Mauritian charge and pledge structure to be upheld for the benefit of DBS, where a similar security structure in Singapore fell through.
Mulu spent hours of his time instructing his juniors in the intricacies of company and commercial law and he is remembered fondly as a mentor by many who went on to careers on the bench.
For his family and friends and those who were fortunate to come across him in daily life, Mulu was a fun-loving, charming, witty, sometimes irascible, and often frank companion whose presence was awaited to really get a party going. He never followed the herd but was always his own man, defying convention, not least when he took on his ultra-traditional family to marry the woman he loved.
Mulu had a lifelong love of reading, particularly philosophy – he was an aficionado of Montaigne – and his suitcases were always full of books when he returned from trips to London. Immensely proud of his Indian heritage, he was an authority on Indian culture and history (with a soft spot for the subcontinental essays of William Dalrymple). In parallel, he also admired British culture, loved to wear his Savile Row suits, Jermyn Street shirts and ties, and Church’s shoes, and enjoyed imbibing Irish and Scotch whiskies.
Mulu totally lacked self-importance, puncturing pretension wherever he saw it, and treating everyone the same, regardless of race, religion, background, education, or political affiliation. He always stepped in to help without being asked, not seeking reward or thanks, and representing many clients pro bono on cases lasting for years. He never sought recognition or the badges of status, but the high regard in which he was so widely held both professionally and personally is testament to his greatness.
Mulu Gujadhur was born on 23rd December 1958 in Mauritius, third child of eminent Mauritian barrister, Madun Gujadhur QC, and his wife, Uma Singh Gujadhur, during the period prior to Mauritian independence when Madun Gujadhur QC was practising at the Patna High Court.
A born contrarian, those who came across Mulu throughout his life quickly found that he could not bear being told what to do, starting with the Jesuit educators of St Xavier’s School in Patna, which was an early example of Mulu’s speaking truth to power. He drew moustaches on the oil painting portraits of past headmasters as a final act of rebellion when he left the school.
Following Madun Gujadhur QC’s return to Mauritius post-independence, Mulu was enrolled at the Royal College of Port Louis. A natural rebel, he was part of the 1975 generation which fought for equality in secondary school education for all Mauritians.
Having left school at 16, he was told to buck up and study Law, but the contrarian in him led him to choose a different path by working at Goupille et Cie as a television repairman whilst studying electrical engineering, much to the dismay of his mother.
Three years later, in 1983, he told his father that he did, after all, want to study Law. He went to Buckingham University for his LLB, and then to London for the English Bar examination, which he passed. However, he was held back from qualifying for a term due to not completing his Middle Temple dinners in time. Once called to the Bar of England and Wales in November 1987, he undertook his pupillage at the commercial chambers of 4 Pump Court, Temple, London.
It was around this time that he met his future wife, Suzanne Bell, Cambridge graduate and already a practising barrister. Enamoured, he introduced her to the jazz clubs of London whilst she tried ineffectually to inculcate in him a love of opera.
Mulu returned to Mauritius and was called to the Mauritian Bar in December 1987. Suzanne stayed behind in London, whilst Mulu faced opposition to their union from his extended family. They nevertheless married in London in 1989, and chose to settle in Mauritius, where they enjoyed a happy married life together: Mulu’s greatest joy was being surrounded by their two daughters and two sons.
Mulu first joined the Chambers of Sir Hamid Moollan QC where he started to build his career in civil and criminal law, under the guidance of this esteemed mentor. Following the demise of his father in 1995, he took over the running of Madun Gujadhur Chambers, developing its reputation as an international corporate law practice. He was elected president of the Mauritius Bar Association in 2007 and was a mainstay of the Bar Council for many years.
Having promised Suzanne not to enter local politics for five years upon returning to Mauritius, five years and a day later Mulu joined the Mouvement Militant Mauricen (MMM). Driven by a desire to help the least fortunate, he was active within the party for a number of years and was made chairman of the Mauritius Housing Company and then the National Housing Development Company (NHDC) following the electoral win of 2000. At the NHDC, he refused to have an official function BMW bought for him, preferring to have the money involved put to building more much-needed houses. He gave up active politics a few years later to concentrate on his burgeoning legal practice and his all-important family life.
Mulu will always be remembered for his tremendous kindness and humanity, for his willingness to help anyone who needed him, for his exceptional intellect, and for his bravery both inside and outside the courtroom. He had a great sense of family and friendship, was a much loved and revered member of his extended family in Mauritius and India and was cherished by his many friends across the world to whom he was simply ‘Mulu of Mauritius’.