Mystery of London dealer’s inflated invoices for world’s biggest collector, the head of Qatar's National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage

The Art Newspaper has obtained invoices sent by Oliver Hoare to Sheikh Saud Al-Thani of Qatar, who remains under arrest in Doha as authorities investigate alleged misuse of public funds



Oliver Hoare, a leading London art dealer who for several years has advised the world’s biggest collector Sheikh Saud Al-Thani of Qatar, invoiced him for excessive sums on a number of occasions. The Art Newspaper has obtained copies of several invoices sent by Mr Hoare to Sheikh Saud who remains under arrest in Qatar as authorities investigate him for alleged misuse of public funds. On one occasion Mr Hoare invoiced Sheikh Saud £5.5 million for a jade pendant originally made for Shah Jahan. Ten months earlier the same object had sold at Sotheby’s for £454,500. Mr Hoare’s invoices are now being examined by Qatari authorities as part of the investigation into Sheikh Saud’s spending.

Last month, The Art Newspaper revealed that Sheikh Saud was under arrest in Qatar having been summarily dismissed as head of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage (NCCAH). We also revealed that Sheikh Saud was under investigation on the orders of his cousin, the ruling Emir.

For the last few years Sheikh Saud has purchased art for the Qatari State, building remarkable collections in a wide range of fields. By some estimates he has spent up to $2 billion of public money. In the same period he has collected for himself, buying at auction and through a small group of dealers mostly in London and Paris. Mr Hoare, who is an Islamic art specialist, has travelled frequently to Qatar to visit Sheikh Saud, his biggest client. He has also sold to other major collectors of Islamic art such as David Khalili (see p.54) and Sheikh Nasser Al-Sabah of Kuwait.

Two of the objects for which we have obtained Mr Hoare’s invoices were sold at an auction entitled “Arts of India” at Christie’s London on 27 September 2001. The first is a diamond, emerald and enamel turban ornament dating from about 1790 which made £1,323,750 at the auction, more than triple its low estimate. Mr Hoare’s invoice for this is dated 6 August 2002. It is made out to “Sheikh Saud al-Thani, P.O.Box 7863, Doha, Qatar” on paper headed “Oliver Hoare Limited”. The invoice is for £7.5 million. Details of Mr Hoare’s London bank account are included.

At the same Christie’s sale, a 217-carat Mughal emerald, carved with invocations and decorated with poppies, dated 1695-96, sold for £1,543,750 ($2,269,310). Oliver Hoare’s invoice for the jewel, also made out to “Sheikh Saud” and also dated 6 August 2002 is for $12 million. This invoice includes details of Mr Hoare’s bank account in Philadelphia as well as in London.

A third invoice is for a jade pendant made for Shah Jahan just after the death of his wife, Nur Jahan. The purpose of this form of pendant is to cure the wearer of “palpitations” and it may have been intended to help the Mughal emperor overcome his grief at her loss. The 17th-century amulet sold at Sotheby’s in London on 18 October 2001 for £454,500. Oliver Hoare’s invoice for “Sheikh Saud”, also dated 6 August 2002, is for £5.5 million, over 12 times the object’s auction price.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s do not disclose information about their clients and we were unable to confirm independently if Mr Hoare was the buyer of these three objects at the auctions. When we contacted Mr Hoare for comment, we received a statement by email: “I was not the buyer at auction of the three items you are suggesting I bought.”

Even if the lots were purchased by another dealer who then sold them to Oliver Hoare, Mr Hoare is unlikely to have paid more than dealers’ standard mark-up of 100%, given that the objects had been sold just a few months before at public auction. While many dealers regularly overcharge rich clients and, of course, it is not illegal to do so, the scale of Mr Hoare’s mark-up is still extraordinary.

These three objects are now in the collections of the Qatari State. They will eventually go on display in the Museum of Islamic Art under construction in the capital Doha. The Shah Jahan pendant and the Mughal emerald were recently on view at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Frankfurt in an exhibition entitled “Arabic Calligraphy” that closed in January. The catalogue for this show lists both pieces as being on loan from the NCCAH in Qatar. In view of this, it raises the question of why Mr Hoare’s invoices were made out to Sheikh Saud and not the NCCAH.

Before the two objects were sent to Germany for exhibition, they were valued for insurance purposes. A curator at the museum in Frankfurt told The Art Newspaper that the combined insurance value for both objects is “only a few million dollars—well below what [Oliver Hoare] invoiced for them.”

Qatari investigators are now reviewing invoices received by the Sheikh from various dealers. Several dealers in London and Paris told The Art Newspaper that they had been asked to send copies of all the invoices they had ever sent to Sheikh Saud.

At the end of February, all dealers known to have sold to the Sheikh received a fax from the NCCAH, dated 16 February, announcing Sheikh Saud’s dismissal as head of the NCCAH. The fax stated that: “The NCCAH will not be held responsible for any commitments made by Sheikh Saud Mohammed Al-Thani after this advice has been issued.” It was signed by the organisation’s new chairman, Dr Mohammed Abdulraheem Kafoud, a former education minister.

The investigation into Sheikh Saud’s spending appears to have started several months ago and could last for another two years.

Sheikh Saud was initially investigated by an Audit Commission appointed by Qatar Petroleum, but The Art Newspaper understands that the investigation has now been passed to the legal authorities. It is thought that the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Al-Thani, intends to allow the legal process to take its course, despite Sheikh Saud being his cousin. Two other NCCAH officials have now been arrested, the director of the museums and antiquities department, and the head of finance and administration.