A Saudi Sheikh with ties to one of London’s grandest mansions is locked in a feud with a Mayfair casino over an alleged £2 million gambling debt.
Sheikh Salah Hamdan Albluewi is accused of failing to settle the debt with the Les Ambassadeurs Club, an exclusive casino off Park Lane which plays host to the rich and famous and featured in the Bond film Dr No.
It is said he “went to ground” when cheques issued in September last year bounced and the casino’s efforts to recover the money foundered, sparking threats of legal action against the Sheikh.
News of the dispute emerged in a High Court ruling on Friday, as a judge removed a freezing order on the Sheikh’s global assets which has been imposed in February as the feud intensified.
The Sheikh, 52, whose company SAB Ventures owns the £45 million mansion in Carlton House Terrace, fought the freezing order and “contends that the debts comprise illegal gambling debts”, said Mr Justice Freedman.
The court heard the Sheikh has been a “significant player” at the casino since signing up as a member in 1993, having bought around £14 million of gaming chips and racked up losses totalling around £5 million.
His cheque cashing facility was temporarily extended to £2 million during a trip to London in September last year, with the casino saying it “knows Mr Albluewi very well” and was “satisfied that he is an individual of considerable wealth”.
The casino claims it tried unsuccessfully to contact the Sheikh once the cheques had bounced, and told the court he has racked up other unpaid debts at London clubs.
“Despite a promise of payment from Mr Albluewi it never materializes and he ultimately goes to ground”, the casino argued.
“It has also become apparent that Mr Albluewi has run up significant gambling debts with other London casinos and has simply walked away from them, presumably back to the safety of Saudi Arabia, where such debts…are completely unenforceable.
“It is the combination of Mr Albluewi’s failure to pay, coupled with his silence and apparent going to ground in Saudi Arabia, combined with a jurisdiction that is hostile to gaming debts and in which a relevant order of the English court would not be enforced that justifies the making of the (freezing) order.”
The Sheikh, who says he and his wife have assets of more than £100 million through their companies, accepts being responsible for the cheques not clearing but says he warned the casino that would happen.
He told the High Court he had previously been suspended from the casino over unpaid debts but was reinstated when they were settled.
Denying that he had “gone to ground”, the Sheikh insists that he regularly travels between Saudi Arabia and London and had not picked up the initial communications from the casino.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Freedman said casino staff know the Sheikh is very wealthy and had visited his grand home in Carlton House Terrace, which had been bought in 2017 from The Queen’s Crown Estate.
He said Sheikh had not been “frank” about the state of his debts to other casinos, but that given his wealth and ties to London and Jersey there was little risk of “dissipation” of funds, preventing the casino retrieving its money.
The judge also found that the casino had not fully informed the court about the value of the property in Carlton House Terrace, while the phrase “gone to ground” could have been misleading about the Sheikh’s position.
The worldwide freezing order was discharged by the judge, while the dispute over the alleged debt continues.