Super-rich Sheikh gets $5 million back for art that wasn’t ancient: Court

  • A respected British art dealer sold seven “antique” artefacts to a Qatari sheikh in 2014 and 2015.
  • The artifacts turned out to be fake. Evidence shows the use of modern tools and materials.
  • Art dealer John Eskenazi was ordered to pay the Qatari buyer $4.99 million plus damages.

A respected British art dealer has been ordered to repay $4.99 million plus damages to a Qatari sheikh after selling him seven “old” sculptures that later turned out to be forgeries.

In 2014 and 2015, Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani, through his firm Qatar Investment and Projects Holding Company, also known as QIQCO, bought seven artifacts from London-based art dealer John Eskenazi for $4.99 million, Forbes reported.

Asian art expert Eskenazi, who had previously procured ancient artworks for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Paris’ Louvre Museum, valued and sold the artifacts with the understanding that they were up to 2,000 years old, according to the Mail on Sunday.

According to court documents, each invoice contained a note: “I declare to the best of my knowledge and belief that the item listed on this invoice is antique and therefore over a hundred years old.”

But a Supreme Court ruling last month found that the artifacts that John Eskenazi Limited (JEL) sold to the super-rich Sheikh of Qatar between 2014 and 2015 were fake.

“In relation to all of the objects, the claimants have established their inauthenticity and the lack of reasonable grounds for JEL’s unqualified opinion as to their ancient origin,” concluded the High Court judge.

The judge ordered Eskenazi on November 29 to refund the amount the sheikh paid for the counterfeit artworks, plus damages.

However, the judge dismissed the Sheikh’s claim that Eskenazi had committed fraud.

The Hari Hara

An image of the sculpture “Hari Hara”.

Supreme Court of England and Wales

A statue of the Hindu deity Hari Hara, believed to be over 1,000 years old and sold for $2.2 million, showed clear evidence it was not ancient in a written report submitted to the court, according to archaeological scientist Anna Bennett.

Bennett said that a high-speed modern polishing machine appears to have been used on the statue and that it was “chemically treated with hydrochloric acid to artificially age the surface and remove the modern tool marks”.

Head of a Krodha.

An image of the sculpture of a Krodha’s head.

Supreme Court of England and Wales

The head of the “Krodha,” a piece believed to be from the fifth or sixth century, had “very clear evidence of modern materials,” Bennett added.

Inside the object were fragments of plastic sheeting and modern fibers sticking out from the surface, Bennett said, according to the verdict.

Insiders contacted Eskenazi and QIPCO for comment, but did not immediately receive replies.

In a statement provided to the Mail on Sunday, lawyers for the Sheikh and QIPCO said: “While Qipco regrets that they have felt it necessary to take this action against John Eskenazi Limited, they have felt it important to continue this case to pursue on principle.”

A spokesman for Eskenazi told the newspaper: “John Eskenazi and his family have suffered years of agony and anxiety as a result of this legal battle.

“Therefore, he is very pleased that the court dismissed the Sheikh’s fraud case in its entirety and accepted that these objects were sold in good faith.”

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