British Parliament Member Sues Philly Art Dealer Nicky Isen Over Warhol Paintings [UPDATED]
UPDATE 2/22/2016: British Parliament member Nadhim Zahawi has withdrawn his lawsuit against Philadelphia gallery owner Nathan “Nicky” Isen.
The transactions of prominent Philadelphia gallery owner Nathan “Nicky” Isen have long been the subject of speculation and controversy, as detailed by Philadelphia magazine’s Steve Volk in this August 2015 feature. Last year, Isen was sentenced to community service and probation in federal court after pleading guilty to money laundering, and now he has raised the ire of a prominent British politician, who is suing Isen for fraud.
Iraqi-born Nadhim Zahawi has been a member of the British parliament since 2010. A horse enthusiast, Zahawi owns a riding school, and he recently took a $28,000-per-month part-time gig with the Iraqi oil company Gulf Keystone. In other words, he’s really rich. And now Zahawi is taking Isen to court.
According to Zahawi’s complaint that was filed on Tuesday, Isen agreed to sell various Andy Warhol paintings to Zahawi. That was in June 2015, two months after Isen was sentenced. Zahawi says that Isen told him that he could have Warhol’s Pine Barren Tree Frog for $49,500, Orangutan for $47,500, Sea Turtle for $22,500, and other images depicting a frog ($52,500) and rhinoceros ($62,500) as well as two Warhol paintings of Mao Tse-tung ($52,500 and $49,500).
Zahawi was most interested in the two Mao paintings, and Isen sent him invoices in September for the two paintings totaling $101,330. (Zahawi has included copies of those invoices with the lawsuit.) He also says he told Isen that he wanted four of the Warhol animal paintings.
The lawsuit states that Zahawi transferred just over $100,000 to Isen’s account in Barclays Bank in London at Isen’s direction. For a week, claims Zahawi, Isen denied having received the funds — that is until Zahawi’s attorneys (well, they call them “solicitors” over there) contacted Isen.
Once Isen allegedly acknowledged receipt, Zahawi says he told him to transfer another $50,000 to an Indonesian account, which would have gone toward the animal paintings that he wanted. And it’s at this point that Zahawi says red flags went up.
“The direction to send funds to an account in Indonesia was concerning to Mr. Zahawi’s solicitors in England and caused Mr. Zahawi to lose confidence that Defendants were being honest and forthright in their business dealings with him,” reads the suit.
According to the complaint, Zahawi asked Isen to ship him the two Mao paintings that he had already paid for. Isen allegedly confirmed that he would do so and repeatedly asked for Zahawi’s shipping address, but according to Zahawi, the paintings never showed up.
When reached at his Philadelphia office, Isen laughed at the lawsuit, saying that Zahawi didn’t wire a cent to Isen. “I guess he must be in trouble in London,” says Isen. “So he’s trying to come up with something.”
Zahawi’s Center City attorney Joseph Armstrong tells Philadelphia magazine that his office has an email signed by Isen confirming receipt of the transfer in question, though he declined to provide a copy until he had a chance to confer with his client, which wouldn’t happen until next week.
“Mr. Zahawi is an extremely busy man and even busier since what happened in Paris,” says Armstrong, explaining that Zahawi is heavily involved in issues of national security. “We were hoping that this issue with Mr. Isen was just a misunderstanding, and we are disappointed that it came to this.”
The suit accuses Isen of fraud, breach of contract, and misrepresentation, among other offenses and seeks damages equal to the amount Zahawi says he paid Isen in addition to interest, costs and attorney fees.
Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.