Qatari sheik with links to the Royal Family accuses top art dealer of duping him with £4.5m forgeries including a piece that ‘contained bits of plastic’
- Sheik Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani says John Eskenazi duped him with forgeries
- The Sheik is suing Mr Eskenazi in the High Court for a refund for the seven works
- He says he passed of modern fakes as historic works of art, such as a £1m statue
- Mr Eskenazi, 73, has supplied pieces to the British Museum and the V&A
A Qatari sheik with links to the Royal Family has sensationally accused one of Britain’s most respected art dealers of selling him a £4.5 million haul of antiquities he claims are forgeries.
Sheik Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani says John Eskenazi passed off modern fakes as historic works of art – including a piece he claims contained bits of plastic.
The Sheik is suing Mr Eskenazi in the High Court for a refund for the seven works, which include a £1.14 million statue of the Greek god Dionysus.
But in court papers seen by The Mail on Sunday, Mr Eskenazi dismisses Sheik al-Thani’s claims as ‘reprehensible’ and ‘heinous’ and say they threaten to ruin his business and his reputation.
Sheik al-Thani is a leading figure in British horse-racing and senior members of the Royal Family, including the King and the late Queen, have been guests at his £330 million Mayfair mansion. In 2014, his investment company, Qipco, was chosen as first commercial sponsor of Royal Ascot.
Sheik Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani (pictured with the Queen in 2019) says John Eskenazi passed off modern fakes as historic works of art
Mr Eskenazi, 73, has supplied pieces to wealthy private clients and institutions around the world including the British Museum and the V&A and said: ‘Despite the disparity in our comparative financial resources, I will not be bullied into forsaking everything I have built.’
The High Court trial is set to resume as soon as this week, after opening hearings in the summer.
It comes as the Sheik prepares to sell priceless treasures from the Al-Thani family’s former Paris mansion, Hotel Lambert, in a multi-million-pound auction at Sotheby’s this month.
Mr Eskenazi first met the Sheik in early 2014 at the West London gallery he runs with his wife Fausta, an Italian aristocrat. While admitting he was ‘a novice’ in antiquities, the Sheik bought seven pieces through Qipco.
The items included the marble head of the god Dionysus (left) and a £655,000 sculpture of the head of a Bodhisattva Buddhist deity (right)
The items included the marble head of the god Dionysus, a £655,000 sculpture of the head of a Bodhisattva Buddhist deity, a £112,000 gold serpent bracelet inlaid with turquoise and garnet, and a £1.97 million statue of the Hindu deity Harihara.
Court papers submitted on behalf of the Sheik say he grew suspicious the following year. Experts commissioned to examine the pieces concluded there was evidence of modern materials in artefacts purported to date from 100BC.
The Sheik summoned Mr Eskenazi to a tense meeting at his Park Lane home, Dudley House, to tell him the pieces were ‘problematic’.
Sheik al-Thani told the court he used the world ‘problematic’ to spare Mr Eskenazi’s feelings: ‘It means fake but in very polite wording… I didn’t want him to be very upset… I wanted to protect his reputation, really.’
According to the documents, conservation scientist Dr Anna Bennett described the head of Krodha, a wrathful deity, as ‘a head made of random particles, including modern metals and modern pieces of plastic, held together with an organic binder’.
Experts testifying for Mr Eskenazi said any modern materials on the objects were likely to be due to the process of restoration and that he continued to believe they were genuine.
They also included a £112,000 gold serpent bracelet inlaid with turquoise and garnet, and a £1.97 million statue of the Hindu deity Harihara
Mr Eskenazi, the son of wealthy Oriental art dealer Victor Eskenazi, told the court he believed the Sheik had simply ‘grown tired’ of the pieces. ‘It concerns me deeply that in so doing he seeks to undermine an impeccable reputation which I have built over a lifetime’s work.’
Sheik al-Thani, who denies this, said: ‘Given my duty to Qipco and the Al Thani Collection, and in circumstances where Mr Eskenazi was not in fact – as he had told me – prepared to refund the pieces if we received reports establishing they were inauthentic, it was necessary to pursue litigation.’
He has also sued Phoenix Ancient Art, of New York and Geneva, saying it sold him fake statues, but lost an appeal over his claim this year.
Sheik al-Thani, the cousin of the Emir of Qatar, entertained the Queen, Prince Philip and the then Prince Charles at elaborate dinner parties at Dudley House, said to be Britain most expensive private home. The Queen is said to have remarked that it ‘makes Buckingham Palace look rather dull’.
Lawyers for Mr Eskenazi and the Sheik declined to comment.
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