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Picasso seized: I-T team

The income tax (I-T) department raids on GTL Ltd, a network services company, continued and led to the seizure of more paintings on Wednesday.

mumbai Updated: Sep 30, 2010 00:40 IST
Manish Pachouly

The income tax (I-T) department raids on GTL Ltd, a network services company, continued and led to the seizure of more paintings on Wednesday.

One of the paintings, I-T officials said, is a Picasso.

The total number of paintings seized from GTL owner Manoj Tirodkar’s home in Napean Sea Road and the firm’s premises in Colaba has gone up to 250, from 100.

Officials suspect the collective value of these paintings, which they say are the works of prominent artists such as Picasso, Souza, Raja Ravi Varma, S.H. Raza, M.F. Husain, V.S. Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta, Laxman Shreshtha and Rabindranath Tagore, is more than Rs 200 crore.

“We will know the exact value once we get the valuation done,” a senior I-T official said, requesting anonymity.

Authorities said they would seek the help of art experts to ascertain the authenticity of the paintings.

Before the seizure, Tirodkar had claimed that the total cost of the paintings he owned was Rs 25 crore.

Income tax officials who searched Tirodkar’s home, spread across four floors, on Wednesday after he returned from Singapore said they found the paintings put up on the walls of his residence.

In the unoccupied Colaba premises, the team found the paintings packed, tagged and kept in toilets, kitchen and rooms.

“I have never heard of GTL Ltd as art dealers or collectors. If someone were amassing such a huge collection, we would know,” said Gita Mehra, who owns Sakshi Art Gallery in Colaba.

Another gallery owner, who refused to be identified, said: “I’m wondering if it’s a Picasso original or a print. If it was an original, we would know it was in India. It could be a limited edition print.”

In mid-September, auction house Sotheby’s sold a Picasso print for Rs 9 crore ($2 million).

The Christie’s sold a Picasso painting in May for Rs 477 crore ($106 million).

While art expert Ashish Balram Nagpal too said he had not heard of GTL as art dealers or collectors, he cautioned: “It is entirely possible for people in India to own a Picasso, bought in a private sale.”

The income tax department suspects the paintings, most of which were imported, were acquired to convert unaccounted income into accounted.

“Preliminary probe shows that when the customs duty was paid, the paintings were highly undervalued,” the official said.

Officials also seized Rs 8 crore cash and Rs 800 crore worth of bogus bills GTL used to inflate expenditure and evade tax.

The raids are expected to continue till Thursday.

The I-T department plans to involve the Enforcement Directorate and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence in investigations.

Tirodkar, GTL’s chairman and MD, could not be reached for comment.