Nicole Romera, a solicitor in Lodders’ Corporate and Commercial team, explains a recent case which highlights the need for written contractual agreements to be in place rather than relying on oral agreements. The case in question, Jeddi v Sotheby’s and others, concerned competing claims to ownership of a £12 million early Islamic rock crystal jar.
Facts of the case
At the centre of this case were two conflicting accounts of the jar’s ownership history. Mr Jeddi (the claimant) claimed to have bought the Jar in Dubai in 2010 and given it to Mr Pishvaie (the second defendant) as his agent to be consigned to Sotheby’s for auction in 2012. If sold, Mr Pishvaie was to receive commission on sale equivalent to 25% of the hammer price less costs of sale.
Mr Pishvaie, however, claimed that the Jar had been in his family collection since at least 1956, that it had been given to him by his father and brought to Europe in late 1968/early 1969 before being brought to London in 1981, which is where it remained. Mr Pishvaie maintained that he had sold the Jar to Mr Jeddi in 2011 by way of part exchange for an antique bronze object, but that as they both considered the Jar was worth more than the bronze object he had kept a 25% ownership interest in the Jar.
Each side accused the other of fabricating documents, deliberate deception, and lying to the Court. Mr Jeddi’s and Mr Pishvaie’s factual accounts directly contradicted each other and, ultimately, the credibility of the two protagonists was at issue.
Implications and take-aways from the decision
“The lack of documentation in this case, ultimately meant that the court’s decision rested on which party it found to be more credible, despite expressing concerns about the evidence both parties provided. Although it is common sense advice to emphasise the importance of documentation, it is not uncommon for transactions involving artwork and cultural property to be completed by oral agreement with minimal paperwork, or even on a handshake, even by individuals who would be very cautious if they were purchasing other assets of equivalent value, such as property or investments.
“This case is a firm reminder of the inherent risks of oral agreements and the importance of putting written contractual agreements in place in order to limit any future uncertainty or adverse interpretation.”
When mishandled, contract law can be a minefield. At Lodders, our commercial solicitors provide advice on a diverse range of contracts. Our services range from guiding and assisting you in negotiations to drafting and concluding your commercial deals. Our team’s experience and expertise ensure that our clients receive bespoke solutions, benefiting from our technical excellence, commercial insight and common sense attitude. You can reduce your exposure to chance by letting us evaluate and manage your legal and commercial risk.