Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani of Qatar died suddenly at his home in London on November 9th, age just 48; he was considered a powerful player on the global art market, rumour would have it that on the news of his impending presence “art dealers and auction houses would dust down their best stuff, add a nought or two, and await his visit” – stated Will Gompertz, BBC arts editor, at the time of the Sheikh’s mysterious demise.
Now it has been revealed that one of the late sheikh’s final purchases has been called into question, as members of Qatar’s ruling family are now being sued for some $7.5 million (£4.8 million) that the collector’s estate still owes for a set of rare stamps that the wealthy collector won at auction before his death.
Qatar’s royal family has long been known for its extensive collecting of art and historical artefacts, this ranged from ancient manuscripts to contemporary art. Over the past two decades, Sheikh Al-Thani acquired a vast collection of art and other artefacts. Al-Thani concentrated on historical pieces, including Islamic ceramics, textiles, scientific instruments and jewellery.The collection, known as the ‘British Guiana collection’ from the estate of John E. du Pont, the stamps were offered by David Feldman Stamp Auctions in June.
The Swiss auctioneer had agreed to accept monthly instalments in lieu of a single large payment as part of the terms of the sale to Sheikh Saud, but Feldman has now filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court claiming that the auction house has only to received $872,000 (£561,000) in payments before the sheikh died in November.
Art consultant Malcolm Harris, who represents Sheikh Saud’s family, told the New York Post that: “The sheikh’s personal art collection is currently being inventoried and assessed. Once this process has been completed, as well as the sale of certain art and jewelry pieces, all of his debts will be paid in full, with any shortages to be guaranteed by the royal family of Qatar,” he went on to claim that his clients were “owed a great deal of money at the time of his death that his family may never see again.”
In addition to various personal debts, it would now appear that Sheikh Saud also owed money related to other purchases of fine art, jewelry, and furs. Sheikh Al-Thani was also a collector of vintage cars, bicycles, antique furniture, and Chinese antiquities. In 2005, Al-Thani was dismissed from his post and the circumstances surrounding the Sheikh’s purchases and holdings were investigated; resulting in his relatives accusing the collector of embezzling many millions of pounds from family members and misappropriating public funds.
However Al-Thani was cleared of any wrong-doing, and returned to his position as a powerful international player in the global art market. But this was followed by a High Court judge in London in 2012 freezing $15 million (£9.6 million) worth of the sheikh’s assets during a dispute over unpaid bills to auction houses.