A billionaire Nigerian prince has been fined at least £1 million in damages after pulling out of a deal to buy a British couple’s house.
Richard and Deborah Conway exchanged contracts with Prince Arthur Eze, an oil magnate, for their seven-bedroom home in Mill Hill, northwest London, in 2015.
Eze, who has a fleet of Rolls-Royces and a private jet, had agreed to pay £5 million but the deal was aborted before completion. The Conways were forced to take out an expensive bridging loan to complete their move to a new home in Cambridgeshire.
They sold the property to another buyer for a reduced price of £4.2 million and later moved their new £2.9 million home.
They sued the prince, 62, claiming compensation for the £800,000 lost in the sale of their house plus the extra costs they faced in pushing through their move to the countryside.
The High Court Judge Andrew Keyser ruled the couple were due the £800,000 in compensation, as well as a six-figure sum in costs which will see the total rise to at least £1 million.
“Prince Eze had signed,” said the judge. “The only contractual term that remained outstanding was the completion date.”
The prince, who is the founder of Atlas Oranto Petroleum, an oil exploration company reportedly worth £2 billion, denied breach of contract and tried to counter-sue the Conways for the return of his £500,000 deposit.
Eze claimed the contract was void because the middleman, who he did not know before being approached, had taken a “secret commission”.
He told the court he had not viewed the house before putting down a £500,000 deposit, but claimed he “thought something funny was going on” and pulled out.
He added that there had been a “drastic fall in oil prices”, and that he had had “good intentions” to buy the house.
Prince Eze said he had wanted “a genuine investment in the UK”.
The judge ruled that the middleman had acted on Prince Eze’s authority, and that the deposit would count towards the damages payment.
Matthew Collings, QC, for the Conways, earlier told the judge that the prince’s failure to complete the purchase had forced the couple to take out a bridging loan. Conway, 62, who was approaching retirement, said that he and his wife, 52, had wanted to “pay off all our debts” by selling the property for £5 million.
Collings said the Conways and the prince got in touch through “a chancer” middleman. The prince did not know the so-called “go-between” before he approached him about the house and “did not trouble himself greatly about the finer details of the transaction”.
Judge Keyser said that the contract to buy the house was valid and ought to have been completed.
He added that the middleman who brokered the deal “certainly did have the authority to instruct the solicitors to exchange contracts” on the prince’s behalf.
DealMakerz thinks the news won’t go down well in Nigeria, where Eze is known as Prince Arthur because of his heritage and tribal ancestry.
He’s also a big philanthropist. He hit the headlines in 2013 when he donated $12 million to help fund the construction of an Anglican Church youth development centre in Otuoke. He also made a $6.3 million donation to flood relief efforts in Nigeria the year before.
As Africa’s eighth-richest man, the fine shouldn’t cause a big dent in his fortunes.