Top banker pays Rs 17.9 crore for 11 fake paintings of Souza, Bawa, others; FIR filed | Mumbai News

A 52-year-old investment banker lodged a complaint with the Mumbai police, alleging that he was duped by two persons, an advocate and an art dealer, of Rs 17.9 crore while purchasing paintings.

In the FIR registered on Monday, the complainant alleged that he had ordered 11 paintings from the two accused; however, the two colluded and sold him duplicate paintings by famous artists, claiming them to be original.

According to police officials, the investment banker has been identified as Puneet Madanlal Bhatia and as per the FIR, he has been employed at a capital investment company for the past 15 years.

The complainant in his statement to police has said that he met an advocate (an accused in the case) in January 2022 at a friend’s party. There, the two spoke about art and paintings during which the advocate told him about an art dealer (second accused in the case).

“From then, we developed a good relationship and were in touch with each other. We would often talk about art and painting and on January 13, 2022, he sent me pictures of a few paintings and claimed that those paintings were famous in the 1970s. He further offered to help me find good paintings,” the investment banker said in his statement to police.

Festive offer

On January 23, 2022, the complainant alleged that the lawyer again sent him an image of a painting made by Manjit Bawa. The advocate informed him that the painting belonged to a retired IAS officer in Bhopal and he was willing to sell it at Rs 6.75 crore.

Subsequently, the advocate sent him a few more pictures of paintings made by F N Souza and said that it was for Rs 1.75 crore. “Classifying the paintings as A plus, the advocate started insisting me to buy those paintings and said that Rs 6.75 crore and Rs 1.75 crore were the final price. On January 26, 2022, I informed him to finalise the deal for the two paintings,” read the statement.

Later on January 30, 2022, the advocate contacted the investment banker again asking him to transfer the money to the art dealer through RTGS method, as he had to go and buy the painting made by Souza from a Madhya Pradesh resident. “As the advocate and the art dealer showed urgency and kept insisting on making the payments, the complainant paid for both the paintings. The two paintings were later delivered at his Gurgaon residence between March and April 2022,” said an officer from Tardeo police station.

The relevant documents were also handed over to him, said police. Between January and May 2022, the investment banker bought nine other paintings from the duo. “For 11 paintings, I paid Rs 17.9 crore to the art dealer at the behest of the advocate. All the payments were made through cheques and online payment,” read the statement of the complainant.

Bhatia, however, learnt about being duped by the duo only after he showed the paintings to his friends. “My friends told me that the paintings are fake and not made by the original artists, so I probed further and also inquired with the retired IAS officer, who told me that the information of him selling or having such a painting, was incorrect,” Bhatia said in his statement to police.

For further scrutiny the complainant sent the paintings and its documents to a company in Santacruz and when the experts there informed that the paintings and its documents were not genuine, he then confronted the advocate and demanded his money. As he gave vague answers and did not return the money, the investment banker then approached Tardeo police station and lodged a complaint.

A case was registered on Monday under relevant sections of conspiracy, cheating, criminal breach of trust and forgery.Senior police inspector Vivek Shende of Tardeo police station confirmed that the FIR has been registered by Bhatia. He said, “An advocate and an art dealer are booked in the case but our investigation is underway and no one has been arrested as yet.”
Calls and messages to Bhatia did not elicit any response.

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

First uploaded on: 20-12-2023 at 01:51 IST

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