One of the country’s most respected art dealers has been ordered to pay back £4million after selling seven “ancient” sculptures and statues that turned out to be fakes containing modern fibres, brass and plastic.
John Eskenazi, world-renowned expert on ancient Asian art and a contributor to the British Museum’s collection, sold it to Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani, on the grounds that the collections are 2,000 years old.
But experts found plastic sheeting on one sculpture’s cheek and evidence of artificial weathering techniques used in another, according to a High Court judgment.
John Eskenazi, who is known around the world as an expert on ancient Asian art and provided works to the British Museum, has been ordered to pay him back after selling seven “ancient” sculptures and statues that turned out to be fakes £4 million
The court ruled the sculptures were forgeries – and that Mr Eskenazi, 73, who runs a Mayfair gallery, should return the money sheikhs paid for them, as well as compensation.
A cousin of Qatar’s ruler, the sheikh bought the seven works of art between 2014 and 2015.
An important figure in British racing, Al Thani has hosted royals at his Park Lane residence.
The most expensive of the seven was a $2.2m (£1.8m) statue of the Hindu god Hari-Hara, which had been shipped from Vietnam to Hong Kong with an invoice stating $575, the verdict revealed, calling it ” Garden Stone Decoration”.
An expert who examined the piece said it had a highly polished surface, which he called “crazy” because it did not show the natural signs of aging expected from a piece said to be more than 1,000 years old.
Experts concluded that another piece of art bought by the sheikh, the $1.275 million (£1m) marble head of Dionysus, god of wine, showed signs of traces of modern tools. It has also been treated with hydrofluoric acid and air abrasion to artificially create signs of weathering.
Photos provided to the court showed the head of a Buddhist demon named Krodha with a plastic sheet protruding from the cheek.
The most expensive of the seven was a $2.2m (£1.8m) statue of the Hindu god Hari-Hara, which had been shipped from Vietnam to Hong Kong with an invoice stating $575, the verdict revealed, calling it ” Garden Stone Decoration”
Judge Richard Jacobs dismissed the chief’s allegations of fraud by Mr Eskenazi.
But he acknowledged that in many areas “Mr Eskenazi did not conduct his business with integrity” and that some documents were backdated or false.
A spokesman for Mr Eskenazi told the Daily Mail on Sunday: “Mr John Eskenazi and his family have suffered years of pain and anxiety as a result of this lawsuit.
“He is therefore very pleased that the court dismissed the chief’s case of fraud entirely and admitted that the items were sold in good faith.
“As he had always expected, the court made it clear that John did not sell known forgeries to the chief.
However, John was deeply disappointed that the court disagreed with his expert assessment that six of the seven items involved were authentic.
“Ultimately, the court chose to accept the views of one group of experts over another.”
Royal Friends: Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah al-Than with the late Queen Elizabeth II
The case has drawn attention to the international antiques market, which experts say has been flooded with fakes over the past four decades.
Some items were never intended to be sold as fake antiques, but instead began life as garden ornaments in high-end garden centers before being sold to unsuspecting buyers.
Others, however, were made by highly skilled artisans with the intention of defrauding wealthy art collectors.
It also raises the question of what can be determined to be true when the panel disagrees.
A London dealer, who did not want to be named, said: “This case demonstrates a huge advance in existing technology, including advanced scanning technology. It is now possible to make scientific judgments about the authenticity of works, which was not possible before.
“Of course, it’s an arms race as sophisticated counterfeiters want to stay ahead.”
Lawyers for Sheikh Hamad and his Qatari investment fund, Qipco, said in a statement: “While it is regrettable to Qipco that they believe this action against John Eskenazi Limited is necessary, they believe that it is very difficult to pursue this case. important as a matter of principle.