Crime Branch ordered to reinvestigate theft of Sheetal Mafatlal's 'stolen' paintings
For two years, police at Gamdevi and VP Road rummaged around for the paintings Sheetal Mafatlal had claimed stolen; now that they have seen through the case they termed false, Home Minister RR Patil has put Crime Branch on the job
The art rip-off an overworked, understaffed Mumbai police spent two years investigating, and finally declared bogus, will now get more attention and time from city’s specialised sleuths. Such is the pull of power and riches. After VP Road police filed a B-summary report terming socialite Sheetal Mafatlal’s complaint that 31 paintings -- including works by M F Husain, Francis Newton Souza and Syed Haider Raza -- had been stolen, court issued her a notice a fortnight ago. But the home ministry has reckoned the case fit for reinvestigations by nothing less than the Crime Branch.
Evidently, the word of the wealthy is weightier than the woes of the common man, who must put up with high-handedness, holdups and rebuffs while trying to lodge a genuine complaint. Last year, Sheetal had claimed that she had kept masterpieces worth crores with Fine Arts Warehousing in Prabhadevi, from where they were moved to the house of one Yasmeen Wallibhoy. She had alleged that the paintings were replaced with fakes by Arif Patel, who had helped her move them, and his manager Farooq Wadia and Yasmeen Wallibhoy.
The complaint was part of a long-winded family feud, which began with Sheetal’s husband Atulya’s daughter Marushka claiming she had stolen the family paintings. After 10 months of prodding Sheetal’s complaint, the VP Road police filed a B-summary report in Girgaum metropolitan court, which meant they had concluded that the theft allegations were ‘maliciously false’.
Round 1: Shoddy
Before that, the case was with Gamdevi police station, which had investigated it from August 2011 to December 2012. Here, the then inspector (crime) Avinash Kanade had carried out a panchnama in the case, but he neither took pictures of the paintings nor brought them to the police station. “After the Gamdevi staff wasted almost a year investigating the case the role of Inspector Kanade came into controversy over improper investigations, and the case was transferred to V P Road police by the then additional commissioner of south region, Krishna Prakash,” said an officer from Crime Branch.
Round 2: Fake
At VP Road, Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Sadanand Date personally oversaw the investigations, which were being supervised by Additional Commissioner Krishna Prakash. A team of officers including Inspector Shrikant Desai and sub-inspector Milind Kate worked round the clock to bring the case to conclusion, which they did.
“We spent 10 months of our time working on many aspects of the case and finally filed a B-summary report. Categorising a case as B-summary means that the allegations made are false. Sheetal Mafatlal had given a false complaint to the Girgaum court against Patel, Wadia and Wallibhoy,” said an officer from the VP Road police team that was carrying out the investigations.
Cops had recorded statements of officials at the warehouse, the watchman and the manager at Crystal Mall where the paintings were kept, and even contacted Saudi Arabian Markets Ltd on the basis of Sheetal’s claim that the paintings were gifted to her from a person there. But the evidence added up to little more than an elaborately spun yarn, cops thought. “So accordingly, we submitted the report to Girgaum court. Senior officers guided the case every step of the way,” said the officer.
Round 3: Reopen
Now, after countless man-hours of a dozen policemen have been frittered for over two years, time which could have beenspent chasing real criminals — Home Minister R R Patil has transferred the case to Crime Branch.
According to sources, Joint Commissioner of Police Date, believed to be an honest officer, found out that some of his recommendations to Addl CP Prakash never reached the investigating officer from VP Road, and that the B-summary report was submitted in a hurry.
“I had reviewed the investigation, and since I didn’t find it satisfactory I wrote to Commissioner Satyapal Singh about it,” said Date. Singh, in turn, wrote to Home Minister RR Patil, who transferred the case to Crime Branch.
“The Crime Branch will now spend its manpower and time on the case. Sheetal Mafatlal recently met senior Branch officers. The Girgaum court has already been informed by the police that the case will be reinvestigated,” said a police officer.
Additional CP Krishna Prakash said, “The complainant was not happy with the investigations so the case has been transferred to Crime Branch.”