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High stakes gambler must pay £2m debt 01/03/2007
Karen McVeigh Thursday March 1, 2007

He is one of the world's biggest gamblers, who spent a remarkable £91m in the course of 12 years playing the tables at one elite Mayfair club. But yesterday the high-roller who goes by the nickname of The Fat Man was ordered by a high court judge to settle an outstanding debt to Aspinalls Club to the tune of £2m.

Fouad al-Zayat, a Syrian-born businessman, who now lives in Cyprus, had a "penchant for gambling", said Mr Justice David Steel in a ruling at the court. "The scale of both his wealth and his gambling instincts are revealed by the fact that between October 1994 and April 2006 the defendant visited the claimant's club on over 600 occasions, purchasing gaming tokens to the value of over £91m and, in the process, losing over £23m."

The case has offered a rare glimpse into the world of "whales", or risk-takers in the gambling world who can afford to lose vast sums at the turn of a card or the spin of a roulette wheel.

Mr Zayat's biggest loss at the club, where membership costs £1,000, was £2m at one sitting on March 10 2000. He wrote a cheque but when Aspinalls tried to cash it, it was dishonoured; after a row with the croupiers at the club he had sent a fax to his bank cancelling the cheque.

The judge said Mr Zayat had continued to gamble at Aspinalls, losing a further £10m which he was asked to settle in cash or debit card transactions. The gambling house took action "with great regret" after the debt remained unsettled for nearly six years, the cut-off point for the money to be legally claimed back. The club successfully applied for a freezing order on his assets, which include a Boeing 747 and a £158,000 Rolls-Royce.

The club, founded in the 1960s by the private zoo owner John Aspinall, who died in 2000, then asked the high court to rule that the matter be settled without a trial as Mr Zayat had no chance of avoiding payment.

The judge found in favour of the club and ordered Mr Zayat to pay the £2m plus the legal costs.

It is not the first time Mr Zayat has been sued over unpaid gambling debts. In March 2002 the Ritz Club issued a writ against him for allegedly bouncing £2m cheques. Court papers served on him at his apartment in the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London, reveal how he gambled £21m at the Ritz in the four years he was a member. He visited the place 156 times between 1999 and 2001, losing almost £10m in cash. At the time Mr Zayat said: "This is the only sin I have. I have lost a lot of money. I know it's wrong to lose money like this but if you've ever been to a casino you will understand what the atmosphere is like."

James Osborne, the managing director of Aspinalls, said: "We waited six years because he is a very important client. We have known him for years and he is a respected member of the club. Unfortunately we have shareholders and we couldn't allow it to go on."