A multimillionaire Saudi businessman has remained clenched in a lengthy dispute with a Mayfair casino over an alleged gambling debt amounting to £2 million.
Sheikh Salah Hamdan Al Balawi, who is known for having assets exceeding £100 million, has been charged with a failure to settle a debt with the Les Ambassadeurs Club. The global assets of the Sheikh were halted in February 2020 after the London-based casino claimed that it had been unable to reach the Sheikh. According to reports, the 52-year-old Sheikh become inaccessible when cheques issued in September 2019 bounced and the Les Ambassadeurs Club failed to recover the money.
Now, the legal fight went to the High court, where a judge lifted the freezing order, which was imposed on the global assets of the Sheikh in February, at the time when the dispute became serious. Sheikh Salah Hamdan Al Balawi fought the freezing order, with Justice Freedman explaining that he argued that his debts at the casino comprise debts from illegal gambling. The dispute over the alleged debt still continues, despite the decision of the judge to discharge the freezing order.
The court heard that the Sheikh has been a regular player at the Mayfair casino since he signed up as a member in 1993. He became a “significant player” for the gambling venue, having purchased around £14 million of gaming chips, and his total losses amount to approximately £5 million.
The Sheikh Claims He Has Not Gone into Hiding after Facing Casino’s Allegations
The Les Ambassadeurs Club claims that the fact that Mr Al Balawi failed to pay combined with his disappearance in Saudi Arabia, and with a jurisdiction that does not welcome gambling debts, make its claims even stronger and completely justifies the freezing order. The casino also shared that the Sheikh had gone to ground to Saudi Arabia, and such debts cannot be enforced there.
For the time being, the Mayfair casino sticks to the claims that it tried unsuccessfully to contact the player and despite he had made a promise to pay his debts, such a payment was never made, with the Sheikh ultimately going to ground.
The Sheikh has accepted being responsible for the cheques not being paid but explains that he previously warned the gambling venue that would happen. He explained to the High Court that he had once been suspended from the casino over allegations of unpaid debts but he was reinstated as soon as he settled those debts.
He also denied allegations of going into hiding and insisted that he travels regularly between London and Saudi Arabia, so he was unable to pick up the initial attempts of the casino to get in touch with him.
In his ruling, Justice Freedman highlighted that the staff of the Mayfair casino were aware of the fact that the Sheikh was a wealthy customer. He further noted that Sheikh had not been open about the state of his debts to other gambling venues but provided his London and Jersey connections and his wealth, there was little risk of “dissipation” of funds that would prevent the casino from getting its money back.