Statues Take Center Stage in Billionaire Fraud Case
(Bloomberg) -- A collection of valuable Asian sculptures is being claimed by the estate of a bankrupt U.S. jewelry company once owned by the Indian billionaire Nirav Modi, who allegedly defrauded an Indian bank of $2 billion, despite his wife’s attempts to gain possession of the sculptures, according to a court filing.
Modi’s wife tried at least twice to claim the 23 statues, which were purchased for well over $100,000 in multiple Christie’s auctions over the past decade. Ami Modi went to the Manhattan offices of Firestar Diamond Inc. last year and demanded the sculptures displayed in an executive office be turned over to her. Mark Samson, the turnaround expert appointed to restructure the company, refused unless she could prove she owned them, according to the court filing.
The fight over the sculptures, which included a terracotta bust of Buddha, is a telling footnote in the bankruptcy case of Modi’s Firestar, which filed for bankruptcy in February 2018 after Indian authorities accused Modi and others of the biggest bank fraud in Indian history. Modi, who dressed stars including Kate Winslet and Priyanka Chopra, has denied any wrongdoing.
Modi wasn’t in India when the fraud charges were announced last year and his location was unknown until last month, when he was arrested in London. During the time he was at large, his wife continued her attempt to take possession of the statues. An attorney representing her, Daniel Ruzumna of Patterson Belknap, contacted the Chapter 11 Trustee overseeing the bankruptcy case about the statues on December 6, 2018, but didn’t respond when the trustee asked for proof of ownership, according to the March 27 filing.
Ruzumna, who represents only Ami Modi, declined to comment. A lawyer representing Nirav Modi didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Nirav Modi’s father, Deepak Kumar Modi, bought 22 of the sculptures at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2010, the filing states, and paid about $70,000, according to information on the auctioneer’s website. The last sculpture is a gilded female head created by Indian artist Ravinder Reddy, which was purchased by an unknown buyer for 35,000 pounds in 2015, according to the filing and Christie’s.
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