A London art dealer is being sued over allegations that he ripped off a super-rich Qatar Sheikh by selling him £4.2million in ‘fake’ antique statues.
John Eskenazi is accused of defrauding art collector Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani with “fake” ancient art.
Sheikh Hamad says he paid “maximum value” for seven pieces, including a carved head of the god Dionysus and a statue of the goddess Hari Hara, valued at £2.2million.
He said he was told they formed between 1,400 and 2,000 years ago before they were unearthed by archaeologists after being hidden in caves for centuries.
But Sheikh Hamad, whose London home Dudley House is reportedly Britain’s most expensive private residence, later demanded that the dealer take them back and give him a refund, claiming the works weren’t authentic.
The Queen reportedly commented on the £330million home at Dinner with the Sheikh in 2015: “This place makes Buckingham Palace look pretty boring.”
The Supreme Court heard that after the purchase, Sheikh Hamad had the pieces examined by experts who had become suspicious and found evidence they were fake, using modern materials including pieces of plastic embedded in one of the items, a grotesque clay head, were embedded.
His claim that the condition is too good to be true for their alleged age.
John Eskenazi has dismissed all of the claims in the High Court’s writing and is fighting the case
Sheikh Hamad Al Thani outside the High Court in London for the hearing on the artworks
The Roll Royce in which Sheikh Hamad Al Thani arrived for his case at the London High Court
Mr Eskenazi, 72, one of the world’s top dealers in artworks from India, Gandhara, the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, says they are authentic and denies any allegations of wrongdoing.
He and his company are now being sued by both his family business and the Sheikh personally over allegations that the artifacts, far from ancient, were “the work of a modern forger” and that Mr Eskenazi knew the most expensive was a fake.
They are trying to force the return of the £4.2million ($4.99million) they shell out.
But Mr Eskenazi is submitting his own expert evidence to Mr Justice Jacobs in London’s High Court, counterclaiming a declaration that all works – lined up in court before the judge – are genuine and authentic.
The court heard Sheikh Hamad, 40, who came to court in a Rolls Royce, paid around £4.2million for seven parts in 2014 and 2015 via family business he runs, QIPCO (Qatar Investment & Projects Development Holding Company). had paid.
It was part of a spending spree that saw Sheikh Hamad spend “£150million over a period of nine months” on antique art through the company.
It relies on expert reports that examination found “protruding plastic” embedded in one of the pieces, an unfired clay head of a demonic being known as Krodha.
His reports also state that modern materials and chemicals indicative of forgery have been found in several other pieces and that their state of preservation is too good to be true.
Sheikh Hamad’s family home, Dudley House, in Park Lane, London dates back to the 17th century and is a 44,000 square foot, 17 bedroom stack
House to House: Does Sheikh Hamad’s Dudley House really make Buckingham Palace seem ‘pretty boring’?
Cost at purchase: £37million
Value now: £330m
How big: 44,000 square feet
Renovation cost: Estimated at £75m
Number of bedrooms: 17
Size of the largest gallery: 81 feet
Cost at purchase: £21,000
Value now: £1.3 billion
How big: 828,821 square feet
Renovation costs: last £369 million
Number of bedrooms: 240
Size of the largest gallery: Queen’s Gallery is an entire building
Roger Stewart QC, representing the Sheikh, told the judge: ‘The plaintiff’s case is that each of the works is a modern forgery, not an ancient object.
“All of the items here, if genuine, are remarkable. They are all between 1,400 and 2,000 years old.”
He told the judge that there is only one known pre-7th-century marble head from this region that exists in the hands of a collector.
“Mr. Eskenazi sold three. Your Lordship must consider whether Mr. Eskenazi was very fortunate in obtaining and selling these wondrous objects to his customers, or whether they are not real objects.
He claimed Mr Eskenazi acted “carelessly” because he had “no reasonable confidence in the authenticity of the items sold”.
And regarding one of them – a statue of a goddess named Hari Hara, which he sold to the sheikh for $2.2 million – the lawyer claimed the dealer “knew it was not authentic”.
The lawyer added that when the Krodha head was examined, there was allegedly evidence of plastic, proving it was a modern fake.
But Andrew Green QC, representing Mr Eskenazi, told the judge: ‘Conservation and restoration treatments, particularly the more invasive and severe methods that have been used up to the very recent past, naturally affect an object’s surface, including any weathering patterns; and may introduce foreign materials into an object, whether in the form of residue from the tools used, modern materials used in restoration, the application of aesthetic deposits, or the removal of existing patina.
“It is often not possible to determine whether an intervention was carried out by a restorer or a forger.
“It is highly unlikely that the defendants would risk destroying an impeccable reputation with museums, collectors and scholars built over decades by either recklessly or deliberately selling counterfeits.
“It is also implausible that the defendants, apparently knowing the extraordinary value of Sheikh Hamad as a prospect, would risk ruining this budding relationship by either carelessly or intentionally selling him counterfeits.”
He testified on Sheikh Hamad’s stand that he simply “decided you wanted your money back” after a competing dealer questioned the provenance of the pieces and then ignored expert evidence supporting the carvings’ authenticity to back his claim to assert.
The Sheik denied these claims.
Mr Green told the judge that carbon dating doesn’t work on stone artwork as it simply reads their geological age, adding that any claim as to the provenance of an object made 1,400 or 2,000 years ago is necessarily an opinion because none- One of us was about 1,400 or 2,000 years ago”.
The judge will now hear competing evidence from experts in art history and archeology over the coming week.
Sheikh Hamad’s father Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al-Thani was Prime Minister of Qatar from 1996 to 2007 and he is the eldest of six brothers. He studied political science at Coventry University.
His family home, Dudley House, in Park Lane, London, which dates back to the 18th century, is a 44,000-square-foot, 17-bedroom stack.
It features a 24m picture gallery and a 15m ballroom and is London’s only surviving aristocratic palace still serving as a private family home.
The process goes on.