Industrialist alleges his wife Poonam Bhagat pocketed Rs 75 lakh of company money while buying a Subodh Gupta installation for Rs 4 crore; Gupta and top dealer Peter Nagy accused of collusion
Industrialist Jaidev Shroff’s United Phosphorous Limited has filed a complaint against his wife Poonam Bhagat at the Khar police station, alleging that she colluded with top contemporary artist Subodh Gupta, leading art collector and dealer Peter Nagy and Aparajita Jain, both directors at leading Delhi-based art gallery Nature Morte, to cheat him of Rs 74 lakh.
Art attack: Poonam Bhagat claims the allegation over Subodh Gupta’s art work ‘Dada’ is a ploy by Jaidev Shroff to coerce her to settle. Pic/Yogen Shah
Jaidev’s UPL paid Rs 4 crore for the installation titles, ‘Dada’, which now sits in the company’s Bandra office lobby. Jaidev has alleged that the trio siphoned off UPL’s money by inflating the price of the work.
Jaidev has also alleged that Poonam had tried to install the artwork at their Bandra residence when it was delivered in April 2015, with the aim of claiming it in case of a divorce.
UPL Director Kishore Chandiramani filed the complaint at the Khar police station on June 6. The police are now in the process of recording the statements of those involved. “We have received the company’s complaint. The matter is under investigation,” said Khar police Senior Inspector Ramchandra Jadhav.
Gupta is one of India’s most accomplished contemporary artists. Nagy is an American artist who moved to Delhi in the 1990s to set up Nature Morte, and is considered to be the poster boy of Indian contemporary art, promoting various top artists. In the complaint, Chandiramani doesn’t elaborate on why Gupta “aided and abetted” the fraud.
Artist Subodh Gupta in front of one of his installations. File pic
While Nature Morte’s Jain did not respond to calls or messages, Gupta told mid-day that he was not aware of the development. “I am sorry, I have no idea, I have no clue,” he said. “All my art work to anyone is sold through my gallery Nature Morte.”
Jaidev and Poonam's messy divorce battle came to the limelight when he filed a police complaint in April, alleging that she fed him a poisonous potion recommended by a Bengali Baba, which he said had caused havoc to his sleep patterns.
Incidentally, Poonam's sister Sheetal Mafatlal faces serious charges of art theft herself, after allegedly stealing paintings worth R100 crore belonging to the Mafatlal company during her own acrimonious divorce battle with Atulya Mafatlal.
More recently, the sisters were in the news after Sheetal allegedly took forceful possession of their mother Rajani Bhagat’s Pali Hill bungalow. As Rajani filed an FIR against Sheetal, the latter alleged that she was locked up and assaulted inside the bungalow by Poonam.
Peter Nagy. PIC/WIKICOMMONS
According to Chandiramani’s complaint in the latest case, Poonam had allegedly advised Jaidev and UPL officials to purchase classic art works to decorate the office. She is said to have been instrumental in identifying, selecting, negotiating, purchasing and installing pricey works on the floors of UPL House in Bandra (East).
“For the company, she (Poonam) was like Caeser’s wife who was above suspicion. But in hindsight, we have now realised that she acted like Brutus in her Trojan evil designs,” reads a line in the complaint.
According to the complaint, Poonam identified Gupta’s ‘Dada’ in January 2015 and recommended it to UPL. 'Nature Morte Art Limited’ executed the commissioning of the work through its directors Jain and Nagy. The company has exclusive rights over the artwork created by Gupta.
In February 2015, UPL inked a deal to buy ‘Dada’ for Rs 4 crore. The complaint alleged that Poonam and Aparajita conspired to inflate the price and pocketed the excess.
“Both the directors of Nature Morte Art Limited and Gupta, being the creator of artwork, have all benefited, aided and conspired to deceive the company,” said the complaint. It alleged Poonam was the mastermind.
“Poonam conspired and inflated the bill to R4 crore and took a kickback and commission of 10 per cent from Aparajita of Nature Morte Art Limited.”
Interestingly, UPL has also submitted a purported transcript of conversations between Poonam and Aparajita and a few mails between the two to support its complaint. It said that Poonam made Aparajita mail Jaidev, talking up the work when the transaction was on.
The complaint seeks that Poonam, Nagy, Jain and Gupta be booked under Section 406, 420 and 120(b) of the Indian Penal Code.
“We were indeed shocked when we stumbled upon the revelations. Our primary responsibility is towards the company and its shareholders. Hence it does not matter who the wrong-doer is,” Chandiramani told mid-day. He has added in the complaint that the company suspects that Poonam must have gained similar benefits in previous dealings as well.
Jaidev told mid-day, “I am shocked and disappointed after learning about the incident.”
Poonam’s lawyers claimed that the complaint was an attempt by Shroff to force their client to back out of the divorce battle.
“The allegations are completely false and baseless,” Advocate Pranav Badheka said on behalf of Poonam.
“Poonam did not benefit a rupee from the dealing. Jaidev and his company’s Kishore Chandiramani negotiated and made an agreement with Nature Morte. The artwork is currently kept in UPL’s office. Jaidev and his team are using the police machinery to settle the matrimonial dispute and put pressure on my client.”
Date: September 2, 2015
Aparajita: Poonam, I had a long chat with Subodh yesterday.
Aparajita: Finally, he has come up with a wise suggestion. He said you know what Aparajita, Poonam should 100% take it in her house, he said screw UPL.
Poonam: Ya, ya
Aparajita: I think this is something that God is sending you. The third edition of the Subhodh Tree. The one in MGMA, we sold it for 1.25 Million.
Poonam: Ya, I think you should also. I would love you.
Aparajita: Can I write that, Can I write that?
Poonam: Ya, Ya and say that you are very lucky that Poonam has negotiated and got this. Please write that.
(Aparajita sent an email to Shroff stating, “You guys made a great acquisition. Of course, thanks to Poonam's super negotiation skills (the work you have is unique).”
She goes on to suggest that Shroff should change the site and instead get it installed at their home. On the same day, she wrote another email stating, “Its Poonam who is lucky for you. What an incredible eye she has. And what power of convincing.”)
Aparajita: I am going to say that. I am going to write that I am only writing to Poonam and Jai rite now.
Aparajita: And I am writing to both of you and I am writing good news. OK.
Poonam: Ya, Ha Ha Ha. Let me tell you. How I want to know this dimensions and where this tree can fit upstairs in the house.
Aparajita: No, like Subodh suggested your garden.
Aparajita: And its all up to you.
Poonam: ya ya ya
Aparajita: I am writing everything on that mail