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SJ Berwin to collect on unpaid legal fees from Qatari sheikh

Middle-Eastern high-net-worth individuals are probably the last clients you would expect to be forced to chase for money but SJ Berwin is set to receive over £260,000 in unpaid fees from a Qatari sheikh client in a judgment revealed last week.

Reported on Bloomberg Businessweek on Friday (20 September), the decision was handed down by the High Court in April after Sheikh Saud Bin Ali Al-Thani failed to respond to a lawsuit brought by the City firm. SJ Berwin, which will merge with King & Wood Mallesons on 1 November, is owed $419,000 for its advice when Al-Thani’s assets were frozen last year after he failed to pay auction houses for bids that he won.

Al-Thani was sued for £4.1m in the UK by London auction house Bonhams and $22m in the US by rare coin specialists A.H. Baldwin & Sons, after successfully bidding for a number of rare artefacts. One of the items he successfully bid for in 2012 included a $3.25m single gold piece from the Ancient Greek city of Pantikapaion according to a lawsuit filed in Washingtonin October 2012 by A.H. Baldwin, M&M Numismatics of Washington and Dmitry Markov Coins and Medals of New York.

A cousin of the Emir of Qatar, Al-Thani was minister of culture, arts, and heritage for the gulf state since 1997 and entrusted with creating collections to fill an ambitious program of world-class museums in Qatar, according to court documents. These included a Museum of Islamic Art, a combined Qatar National Library and Natural History Museum, a Museum of Photography, and a Museum of Traditional Clothes & Textiles.

He pledged the world’s most expensive watch and other items to Sotherbys valued at around $83m to cover his debts according to court records filed at the New York Department of State last October.

Nicola Bridge, a disputes partner at legacy SJ Berwin, is named on the court documents but she and the firm declined to comment.