The Qatari royal family are fighting for the coveted “Idol’s Eye” diamond in court in London
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Rival members of the Qatari royal family are battling for control of the world’s largest cut blue diamond in the High Court in London, with one side seeking a $10 million sale of the opulent 70-carat ‘Idol’s Eye’ gemstone to force.
The fabled Indian diamond, whose previous owners include a Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, is at the center of a lawsuit filed by Qipco, a conglomerate run by Qatar’s pro-spending art collector Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani.
The defendant in the previously unreported case is Guernsey-based Elanus Holdings Limited, which Qipco says is controlled by the heirs of the late Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed al-Thani, who oversaw the acquisition of Qatar’s extensive national art collection.
Qipco, a private company that sponsors Britain’s Royal Ascot horse races, sued in November to force Elanus to sell the “Idol’s Eye” diamond, set in a 16th- or 17th-century necklace, for a prize of at least 10 million a contract from 2014 between the companies.
Pinsent Masons, Qipco’s law firm, declined to comment. Elanus’ law firm Farrer & Co also declined to comment.
The ‘Idol’s Eye’ diamond
Sheikh Saud, who died in 2014 at the age of 48, was the largest buyer in the global art market in the 2000s and was known for his prolific acquisitions across eras and genres. Such was his influence on auctions that his arrest in 2005 by Qatari authorities investigating financial irregularities shocked the art world.
His legacy can be found in Doha’s museums, where his extensive collection is on display, and in his Jean Nouvel-designed Doha Tower on the city’s West Bay.
Qipco boss Sheikh Hamad, son of a former prime minister and first cousin of ruling Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has become Qatar’s pre-eminent collector in recent years, amassing a vast collection that includes some of the finest Mughal jewellery .
His pieces have been featured in major museums worldwide and highlights can be seen in bespoke galleries in Paris. His horse-breeding family owns Dudley House on Park Lane, one of the most expensive private homes in the UK.
The focus of the lawsuit is a contract signed by Elanus in May 2014 to loan Qipco the “Idol’s Eye” for 20 years. The agreement gave Qipco the right to buy the jewel if Elanus wanted to sell it. The price would be $10 million or the average of two major auction house valuations, whichever is higher.
Elanus, set up as a vehicle for the transaction, has nominee directors and shareholders but is controlled by the family of the late Sheikh Saud through the Lichtenstein-registered Al-Thani Foundation, according to Qipco.
The lawsuit alleges that a Swiss-based attorney for the Al-Thani Foundation, Dr. Dieter Neupert, informed Qipco by letter in February 2020 that the family wanted to sell the “Idol’s Eye”. However, the following month he emailed Qipco to say they didn’t want to part ways.
The lawsuit cites an April 2020 email from Neupert to an Elanus representative noting that the pandemic affected the alleged reversal. “Due to the coronavirus, the family does not want to sell,” he wrote. Qipco has applied to the High Court to require Elanus to complete the sale.
Neupert said he could not discuss the case because it was bound by attorney-client privilege. He added that he could not speak for Elanus as he “never had a mandate to represent Elanus Holdings”.
It appears that Elanus has yet to file a defense in the case by Farrer, best known for acting for the late Queen Elizabeth II. The Qipco lawsuit shows that Farrer argued that Elanus never wanted to sell the diamond, that Neupert did not act on his behalf, and that in any event Elanus withdrew any notice of sale.
The lawsuit is Sheikh Hamad’s latest lawsuit in London over controversial artworks. In November, Qipco won a £4million lawsuit against British art dealer John Eskenazi over purchased fake sculptures. The Supreme Court ordered Eskenazi’s company to refund Qipco but dismissed an allegation of fraud.