Ursa Philbin alleges husband and son of Baroness Verma stole the brand name and assets of My Skinny Rice
The family of Tory energy minister Baroness Verma are embroiled in an embarrassing legal row with a Slovenian former model over the ownership of a company selling “healthy” rice.
The peer’s husband, Ashok, and her son, Rikki, are being sued by 32-year-old Ursa Philbin in America for allegedly stealing her share of a joint business. Philbin, who was once on the books of the Ford Models agency, claims that the son and husband stole the brand name and assets of a company called My Skinny Rice, whose low-glycaemic product sells in the natural foods store Whole Foods Market.
The My Skinny brand is alleged to have been stolen after the breakdown of a relationship between Philbin and the minister’s 30-year-old son. Her legal claim states: “In or about January 2012, Ursa and Rikki Verma, who were dating at the time, began to have a breakdown in their personal and business relationship [sic].
“Rikki Verma threatened that if he and Ursa broke up, he would kick Ursa out of the company.” It adds: “Rikki Verma and Ursa did soon after end their personal relationship.”
Philbin claims that the assets of My Skinny Rice, including its trademark, were then transferred to newly established companies under the control of the Vermas.
The row will be an embarrassment to Verma, who was recently criticised for privately describing her ministerial brief as “all a load of hot air”.
Among her claims, Philbin says she has a shareholders’ agreement which her lawyer claims was witnessed by the minister in a private room at the House of Lords. Philbin claims she was recognised as the “founder, creator, designer, developer and face behind” My Skinny Rice, adding that before her involvement in the company the rice was being marketed to the ethnic and diabetic market. She is said to have transformed the rice’s appeal, according to legal papers seen by the Observer, by turning it into a “lifestyle brand”. However, Philbin claims that stickers now conceal her face and name on My Skinny Rice packaging.
In response, legal papers filed at the high court by Rikki and Ashok Verma and a business partner claim Philbin knew the shareholders’ agreement was “subject to further discussion”. The response further claims that Ashok, 64, has a “turbulent relationship with his son” and so had merely transferred the intellectual property of My Skinny Rice to ensure that it did not “get into the wrong hands”.
The counter-claim calls for the high court to rule that Philbin has no rights over the new companies that exist and that any court hearing in the future should be held in England.
Marc Lebowitz, the lawyer acting for Philbin, said: “The conduct at issue was so blatant that I can only conclude that the Vermas believe that their money … allows them to operate above the law.
“We have no doubt that Ms Philbin will prevail on the merits of her claim should the Vermas’ money and connections not preclude a fair hearing on the merits. However, we have grave concerns about the Hon Rikki Verma’s stewardship of the brand during the legal process.”
A spokesman for the minister said: “Baroness Verma is not a party to the litigation, nor has any allegation of wrongdoing been made against her as part of the claim.”
A spokesman for Rikki and Ashok Verma said: “We vigorously deny the unfounded allegations made in the US proceedings and are confident that we will be wholly vindicated at the end of the case.”