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Central to the application against Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Al-Thani - "reputedly the world's largest collector of objets d'art", the court heard - is a claim for $19.7m relating to coins bought in the record-breaking Prospero collection sale of Greek coins in New York in January this year.

At the High Court in London, Jeffrey Gruder QC, representing A.H. Baldwin and Sons Ltd, Dmitry Markov trading as Dmitry Markov Coins and N&M Numismatics LLC, likened Sheikh Saud to an "inveterate gambler" who could not stop himself spending millions on objects of his desire before walking away from his obligations.

In contrast, the sheikh's QC, Stephen Rubin, denying the accusations on the sheikh's behalf, said he had been "trying to pay" for the coins for the past nine months. "There are no doubt timing issues which go to why he cannot pay at the moment, but that's not a reason to make a freezing order against someone," he said.

As reported previously in ATG, Baldwin still hold the coins pending payment. In linked proceedings in the United States they are insisting that the sheikh should be bound by his bid at auction.

The case reached the High Court as the auctioneers' lawyers urged Mr Justice Haddon-Cave to continue an asset-freezing injunction imposed on the sheikh, who is a cousin of the ruling emir of Qatar, on October 9.