A wealthy sheikh has won a bitter High Court battle over claims he agreed to pay £35 million to be introduced to his Bollywood 'idols'.
Egyptian businessman Ahmed Adel Abdallah Ahmed claimed Sheikh Hamad Isa Ali Al Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family and a distant cousin of the King of Bahrain, exclusively hired him to arrange meetings with 26 Indian film stars.
It was said to have included A-listers such as Slumdog Millionaire star Anil Kapoor and former Miss World and Bride and Prejudice star Aishwarya Rai.
Ahmed Adel Abdallah Ahmed claimed Sheikh Hamad Isa Ali Al Khalifa (pictured), a member of the Bahraini royal family and a distant cousin of the King of Bahrain, exclusively hired him to arrange meetings with 26 Indian film stars
Bunty Walla, Sanjay Dutt, Deepika Padukone and Karishma Kapoor were also reportedly on the wish list.
Mr Ahmed argued that they had reached a legally binding agreement in a January 2016 phone call, but Sheikh Hamad denied that any agreement had been reached and said he thought he had a 'genuine bond of friendship' with Mr Ahmed.
Giving his judgment in London on Friday, Mr Justice Jacobs dismissed the claim, finding that there were 'simply too many inconsistencies...and improbabilities for the case advanced by Mr Ahmed to be accepted'.
The judge said: 'I reject Mr Ahmed's account of the phone conversation on 7 January 2016, and I reject his case that there was any agreement on the terms alleged.'
In a statement after the ruling, Sheikh Hamad said: 'I am very pleased with today's judgment.
'It was with a heavy heart that I was forced to defend myself against this claim, since I had considered Mr Ahmed to be a friend whom I trusted, and had always treated him with generosity and kindness.
'Nonetheless, I have never wavered in my belief that the claim was completely unfounded and I am glad that the court has found in my favour and dismissed the claim in its entirety.'
The business man claimed the sheikh had drawn up a 26-man list of celebrities he was desperate to meet, including former Miss World Aishwarya Rai
At a hearing in November, Mr Ahmed's lawyers said Sheikh Hamad had a 'lifelong passionate interest' in Bollywood and an 'unbridled desire' to meet its stars, including Shah Rukh Khan, Ranveer Singh and Aishwarya Rai.
His barrister Stephen Nathan QC said access to such stars is 'not easily achieved', but that Mr Ahmed and his company CBSC Events & Exhibition and Conference Organisers were able to deliver it 'at a price'.
Mr Nathan said photographs of the encounters showed the sheikh 'happy and relaxed' with a star, giving out 'expensive presents' he had bought from Harrods.
But, he told the court, 'despite the superficial appearance of good-natured social interaction, these were artificial events that had to be stage-managed and paid for'.
Mr Nathan added: 'The claimants had the entrepreneurial ability and contacts to put together a service specially tailored to the defendant's requirements, both as to the stars of Bollywood whom he wanted to meet, and the kind of private encounters that he wanted to have.
'That service replicated ... a casual social gathering in the company of individual Bollywood stars, away from the crowds and in the intimacy of a private suite in a luxury hotel.
'But it was not the real thing and it was not the product of spontaneous friendship - it was a service being provided to him by a businessman for money.'
Slumdog Millionaire star Anil Kapoor was also claimed to have been scheduled for a 15-minute one-on-one meeting with the royal
Mr Ahmed claimed that, during a phone conversation when Sheikh Hamad was in London in January 2016, they made an 'oral agreement' that he would be paid more than £1 million for each meeting, plus a bonus of more than £350,000 after every third meeting.
But Sheikh Hamad contended that the alleged arrangement was 'entirely fictitious', with his lawyers submitting that the idea he had entered into an 'exclusive agreement' with Mr Ahmed was 'absurd, verging on the grotesque'.
Andrew Hochhauser QC said: 'Sheikh Hamad regarded Mr Ahmed as one of his friends and someone who was helping him make his dreams come true.
'Sheikh Hamad was, therefore, happy to express his gratitude to Mr Ahmed by giving him large sums of money.
'Whilst Mr Ahmed no doubt continued arranging meetings for Sheikh Hamad in the hope and expectation that Sheikh Hamad would continue to give him very large sums of money (in return for doing very little), there was plainly never any legal obligation on the sheikh to do so.'
The barrister submitted that the 'warm and affectionate tone' of text messages between the two men suggests Mr Ahmed also regarded the relationship as a friendship.
He added: 'If those feelings of friendship were not reciprocated by Mr Ahmed, then it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Mr Ahmed was simply stringing Sheikh Hamad along.'
Mr Hochhauser described Mr Ahmed's claim as 'an unjustified attempt...to exploit the vulnerability and extreme generosity of the defendant by seeking to characterise a relationship of trust and friendship as a cold, commercial relationship between two businessmen'.