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Speaking from Doha in an interview with the Financial Times on October 24, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was asked if he was thinking of bidding for the firm:

"Christie's, yes, I think we are, because we are building a museum and it has links with the stuff we are collecting for our museum," he replied.

Asked whether or not he had already made a bid, the Emir said not yet, but confirmed that the Qataris "would not hesitate" if a good opportunity arose.

Further questioning indicated that key to any transaction would be the willingness of current owner François Pinault to negotiate an attractive deal.

Pinault, who is himself an important collector of contemporary art, has had a controlling stake in Christie's since 1998.

The news finally confirms longstanding rumours of Qatari interest in the acquisition of Christie's, although it is not clear just how far the comments in the FT interview constitute an approach to purchase the company from Mr Pinault.

Last week the Emir was on a state visit to London where he met the Queen and members of the Government and Opposition.

The Qatari state is a heavy investor in London, apparently owning more property in the capital that the Crown Estates.

By Ivan Macquisten