Bombay HC Refuses to Stay Live Auction of Nirav Modi’s Paintings

The ED is auctioning several of the Modi family’s paintings, including by MF Husain on Thursday, 5 March.

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Auction house Saffronart on Wednesday, 26 February announced that assets belonging to fugitive diamond merchant, Nirav Modi will be auctioned next month.

The Bombay High Court has refused to grant a stay on the auction of Nirav Modi’s paintings that is scheduled to take place on Thursday, 5 March.

The court observed that the petitioner, Nirav Modi’s son, Rohin Modi, delayed approaching the court to stay the auction, without any justification for the delay. The court also observed that because of the way in which the plea was filed at the last minute, the Enforcement Directorate had not been given enough time to respond to the petition.

The assets – which include paintings by MF Husain and Amrita Sher-Gil among other big names – will be auctioned live by the art house Saffron Art, for the ED.

In an attempt to stop the auction, Rohin Modi approached the Bombay High Court, where he argued that the paintings belonged to the ‘Rohin Trust’ and so could not be auctioned off. Furthermore, he argued that despite knowing of the Trust’s interest, the ED did not send any notice to the Trust about what they were doing.

The ED responded by saying that fugitive businessman Nirav Modi’s wife, who is also an accused, owns 90 percent of the shares in the Trust, and so they had the authority to have the paintings sold.

‘Why The Urgency?’

Questioning the ‘urgency’ shown by the ED in organising the auctions to sell off Modi’s paintings, Rohin Modi’s lawyer Amit Desai argued that this was not a civil recovery proceeding and if the Income Tax Department (which has also seized some of Modi’s assets) is yet to sell 113 paintings, then why did the ED need to rush selling those it had attached.

He also added that the paintings held sentimental value for the family.

“These paintings may also constitute heritage of India. Some of them can’t even leave India. How can you call this an international auction?” asked Desai.

Countering the claim that Rohin Modi was not informed about the auction, the ED argued, “We have advertised about the auction of the paintings for a long time. They were aware about the auction.”

Refusing to grant a stay, the Bombay High Court ordered that proceeds from the auction should be deposited in a nationalised bank, while also clarifying that receipts for the same should be submitted to the court.

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