A gambling addict who owes a top London casino more than £2 million was jailed for 10 months for contempt of court today (THURS).
Swiss billionaire Safa Abdulla Al-Geabury, 52, handed over a £2million cheque during a gambling spree at The Ritz Club in February 2014.
But the cheque bounced the next day.
The Ritz Hotel Casino Ltd, which owns the club, successfully sued the businessman in the High Court last July for the sum, plus £200,000 interest.
Lawyers for the Ritz yesterday (Weds) asked Mr Justice Spencer to find Mr Al-Geabury in contempt of court.
They claimed he had breached a worldwide freezing order, made last November, by failing to provide information about his assets.
Mr Justice Spencer today handed down a ten month prison sentence at the High Court.
Al-Geabury, who lives in Geneva, Switzerland, was not present in court as the judgement was handed down.
He claimed last year his only assets were Islamic artwork worth around US$1billion.
But in a witness statement from the businessman read to the court today, he said he had been due to inherit the artwork from his late uncle – but was left nothing in the will.
He also claimed to be homeless and staying with friends, and suffering from depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation, for which he was on medication.
His gambling problems had left him with no assets, and he had no means or income, which had left him relying on friends.
Al-Geabury said: “Due to the health issues I have struggled to deal with my day to day activities.”
However there was evidence he was a man of “very enormous capital,” the court heard.
A letter from The Ritz’s lawyers dismissed Al-Geabury’s statement, and claimed he was trying to “paint a bleak financial picture”.
Judge Spencer said: “It is quite clear the defendant has been prepared to engage with the proceedings but only on his own terms.
“I am quite sure, on all the evidence, the defendant was well aware of the obligations to provide information on his worldwide assets.
“I am sure he was notified of the relevant terms of the order. I am sure he deliberately chose to do nothing.
“The seriousness of contempt of this kind has been repeatedly emphasised by the Court of Appeal in recent years.”
He said there had been a “complete failure” to disclose information about his assets.
Judge Spencer said: “I am satisfied it certainly must have caused harm to the claimant and certainly may have done so.
“I am satisfied this was a deliberate failure to disclose in order to frustrate the judgement.
“There has been some misleading disclosure in that the statement served yesterday contains false and misleading information in relation to the Islamic art.”
Describing Mr Al-Geabury as a “very wealthy man indeed”, he said a committal for imprisonment will have “reputational and business consequences” and will not be “meaningless.”
He added: “The defendant is an international businessman who clearly has a significant presence in the United Kingdom. He rented flats in London, he enjoyed gambling.
“Only an immediate sentence is appropriate. Six months shall be served as punishment for the breaches. The court might consider remitting the remaining four months.”
During last year’s case Mr Al-Geabury said the casino, below The Ritz hotel, knew he had an addiction and he should not have to pay.
His lawyers argued by providing him with facilities to gamble, the club had unlawfully breached the terms of its gaming licence.
Mr Al-Geabury also counter-claimed for £5.4million, the sum he supposedly lost when he was allowed to gamble between October 2010 and February 2014.
But a judge rejected his argument, and ordered the businessman to repay the money.
The casino’s main gaming salon is based in the former ballroom of the Ritz hotel, and is open to all guests staying at The Ritz London.
It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and offers a wide variety of games including American Roulette, Blackjack, Punto Banco and Three Card Poker.
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