A member of the Bahraini royal family is being sued for £35m at Britain’s High Court after he allegedly pulled out of an “extraordinary” deal to spend time with dozens of Bollywood stars.
Sheikh Hamad Isa Ali al-Khalifa is accused of reneging on an exclusive agreement with an Egyptian businessman, who offered to set up 15-minute meetings with film A-listers at luxury hotels in India and Dubai.
The royal, a cousin of the King of Bahrain and a nephew of the country’s deputy prime minister, is said to have drawn up a list of 26 Bollywood stars he wanted to meet, including Anil Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, and Deepika Padukone.
According to court papers filed at the High Court of Justice in London by businessman Ahmed Adel Abdallah Ahmed, the sheikh agreed to pay £1.15m for each encounter as well as bonuses and expenses.
But after one-one-one meetings with Bollywood stars Aditya Kapoor, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Ranveer Singh between January and March 2016, the royal is alleged to have backed out from the deal having paid only £2.3m.
Mr Ahmed, who lives in Dubai, claims he is owed up to £35m to compensate for the loss of earnings he expected to make for arranging meetings with the other 22 stars.
He alleges the sheikh also agreed to pay more than £380,000 to sponsor the Times of India Film Awards, where he would be able to mix with Bollywood actors, but the money never materialised.
“Given the positive relationship I felt we had built up during our work, I feel betrayed,” Mr Ahmed said.
The sheikh denies he had “any legally binding agreement” with the businessman.
In a defence statement submitted to the court, he said he pulled out of the deal after Mr Ahmed “started to put unfair pressure” on him, “making unwarranted demands for very large sums of money and seeking to arrange meetings which were not convenient”.
He said he was “very enthusiastic at the prospect of meeting Bollywood stars” after being introduced to Mr Ahmed, who he claimed initially told him it would cost up to £38,000 per actor.
However, the Egyptian later told him it would cost about £380,000 to meet the most well-known film industry figures, the sheikh claimed.
The sheikh said he paid £2.6m to spend time with four stars before informing Mr Ahmed in April 2016 that he did not want him to arrange any further meetings.
But the businessman then began “forcibly trying to impose meetings” with Bollywood actors on him, he claims.
He said he “felt threatened” by Mr Ahmed’s demands and believed he “was seeking to take an unfair advantage of him”.
Last year the sheikh’s legal team applied unsuccessfully for the claim to be thrown out by the High Court, arguing he has “no substantial connection with England... and the pursuit of the claim in Bahrain would best serve the ends of justice”.
Mr Ahmed argued the case should be heard in London because the sheikh spends “a large part of his time” in the city and maintained a number of British bank accounts. He also claimed he would not get a fair hearing in Bahrain.
Sarosh Zaiwalla, a senior partner at law firm Zaiwalla & Co, which is representing Mr Ahmed, described the case as “extraordinary”. He said he expected the sheikh to be cross-examined during a five-day hearing next week.