Potential buyers were approached to purchase a minority stake in Sotheby’s after its French Israeli owner, Patrick Drahi, leveraged assets associated with his telecommunications conglomerative Altice, the Financial Times reported earlier this week. Since then, Sotheby’s CEO Charlie Stewart has denied that the house is considering any public offers.

The Financial Times report, which was based on two anonymous sources, said that high net worth investors based in Europe were approached. So was the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), a wealth management fund worth established in 2005 that oversees the assets of the state of Qatar.

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The QIA reportedly held discussions with the auction house’s owner a year ago about the purchase of a stake in Sotheby’s via a potential capital increase, a maneuver meant to finance a new investment. Drahi did formally not pursue plans to offload stake in Sotheby’s, the report said. Those discussions are no longer active.

Drahi purchased the auction house in 2019 through his family office for $3.7 billion. The private proposals for the sale of a minority stake in Sotheby’s followed the owner’s announcement in August of a plan to leverage the Altice assets to deal with a $60 billion debt accumulated through acquisitions in France, the US, Portugal, and Israel.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Stewart, the Sotheby’s CEO, denied that Drahi was considering a public offering for Sotheby’s. He also said that the business was not in need of capital raising to fund its operations.

Private investors are commonly pitched for partial sales of companies leading up to IPO offers. In the interview, Stewart said that it is common to occasionally assess investor interest. He said Sotheby’s had exhibited “strength” recently, noting that the house is projected to bring in $8 billion in 2023 sales, around the same amount as last year.

Representatives for Sotheby’s and the QIA declined to comment on the reasons why the discussions ended.

The news comes as the Israel-Hamas war causes tensions for wealth managers and their affiliates. Auction houses have generally not commented publicly on the conflict, and their CEOs have largely kept silent on how the war might impact their businesses.

Qatari officials have been active brokers of negotiations between Hamas and Israel. Historically, Qatar has supported Palestine.

Drahi, who maintains citizenship with Israel, is a prominent philanthropic figure within the country. He oversees his telecommunications company there, and he has a family foundation that funds Israeli cultural initiatives.

Members of Qatar’s royal family are high-profile clients for auction houses and patrons for major museums. In 2021, Qatar gave $5 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to fund its Islamic art wing as part of a loan partnership. In mid-October, shortly after Israel began leading air strikes on Gaza following the Hamas attack that killed 1,200 Israelis, the Qatar Museums called off a planned opening ceremony around a joint exhibition planned with LACMA and expressed support for Palestine.  

Qatar has in the past demonstrated business interests in investing in the luxury sector, attempting to take a more active role in auction houses in the process. In 2010, Qatari officials expressed interest in bidding for Christie’s, owned by the French billionaire François Pinault. Qatar has also diversified its interests in trophy assets like real estate, acquiring Harrods in London and engaging in discussions about buying a stake in historic hotels in Egypt.