In 2015, the Qatari Sheikh became Vice President of the Friends of the Castle of Mey after a large donation to the Highland Home of the late Queen Mother.
Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani is suing a London art dealer over claims he was sold $4.99 million in fakes of ancient statues.
Sheikh Hamad, the son of former Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani, has taken action against John Eskenazi for selling him fake antique art.
Sheikh Hamad spent a substantial sum to get his hands on seven supposedly historical pieces, including a carved head of the ancient god Dionysus and a $2.6 million statue of the goddess Hari Hara – both part of ancient Greek religion and myth .
The Qatari sheikh said he was informed the pieces were created between 1,400 and 2,000 years ago, before they were excavated from caves by archaeologists, according to reports from the UK.
Sheikh Hamad later allegedly asked the fraudulent retailer to take back the items and issue a refund over claims of inauthenticity.
The case was brought before London’s High Court, where a judge learned that Sheikh Hamad brought in experts to examine the pieces after he became suspicious and found bits of plastic embedded in the item, reports say.
The 72-year-old Eskenazi, who is said to be a big trader in places like India, Gandhara, the Himalayas and generally Southeast Asia, claimed they were “authentic” and slammed all the allegations leveled against him.
The case will come before Judge Jacobs of the High Court. The dealer, on the other hand, sues for a “declaration that all works – which have been tried in court – are genuine and authentic”.
The court heard that Sheikh Hamad paid approximately $5 million for seven parts in 2014 and 2015, allegedly through Qatar Investment & Projects Development Holding Company (QIPCO).
Backing up its claims with “expert opinion,” the Sheikh’s side explained that the inspection found “protruding plastic” embedded in one of the parts.
The report in defense of the Sheikh also states that “modern materials and chemicals indicative of forgery” have been discovered in some other pieces, suggesting that such ancient pieces are unlikely to be preserved in good quality.
Roger Stewart QC, who defended the Sheikh, allegedly told the judge: “The plaintiffs’ case is that each of the works is a modern forgery, not an ancient object.”
He informed the judge that only one known pre-7th century marble head from this region exists in the hands of a collector.
“Eskenazi sold three. Your Lordship must consider whether Eskenazi was very lucky in obtaining these wondrous items and selling them to his customers, or whether they are not real items,” he said.
He argued that Eskenazi was “negligent” because he had “no reasonable confidence in the authenticity of the items being sold.”
As for the Hari Hara goddess that was sold to the Sheikh for $2.2 million, the lawyer claimed the dealer “knew it wasn’t real,” adding that there was “alleged evidence of plastic.” in another piece, the Krodha Head, when examined.
But Andrew Green QC, defending Eskenazi, told the judge: “Conservation and restoration treatments, particularly the more invasive and severe methods used up to the recent past, of course affect an object’s surface, including any weathering patterns; and can 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.”
He argued that it is often “impossible” to substantiate the authenticity of a piece and determine whether the intervention was the work of a restorer or a forger.
“It is entirely unlikely that the defendants would risk destroying an impeccable reputation they have built up over many decades with museums, collectors and scholars by either negligently or intentionally selling counterfeits,” Eskenazi’s side argued.
“It is also unlikely that the defendants, who evidently knew the extraordinary value of Sheikh Hamad as a new client, would risk ruining this budding relationship by either carelessly or intentionally selling him fakes,” they added.
Green told the judge that “carbon dating” is ineffective on stone artwork because it only reads geological age. Arguing that cases made about the origin of an “object made 1,400 or 2,000 years ago are necessarily an opinion because none of us were about 1,400 or 2,000 years ago”.
However, the ‘no one was there at the time’ argument can be considered unfounded as it implies that the age of a historical piece in the field of contemporary history cannot be calculated or hypothesized since the archaeologists or historians were not there at the time’ .
The judge will now hear competing evidence from experts in art history and archeology over the coming week.
Artifacts plundered by the west
In addition to the loss of innocent lives, conflict-torn countries are regularly confronted with theft of cultural and cultural assets.
Artifacts up to 1,800 years old have been looted in Afghanistan, many of which were sold in Western markets between the 1990s and 2000s, according to a New York Times report.
British Museum curator St. John Simpson told the American news agency that all the artifacts were illegally exported or stolen.
Meanwhile, an Iraqi court recently sentenced retired British geologist Jim Fitton to 15 years in prison for willfully smuggling artifacts older than 200 years out of Baghdad.
The British national was arrested at Baghdad airport in March after items were discovered in his luggage.
In 2019, the British Museum also announced plans to return 154 Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets, stolen in 2011, to the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.