Art gallery owner accused of 'scamming' tycoon

High-profile art gallery owner Jasmine Tay was yesterday accused in court of "pulling a scam" on Indonesian tycoon Tahir, who had sued her to get back the US$1.6 million (S$2.2 million) he had paid her for a sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

Confronting her with her own bank statements, Mr Tahir's lawyer, Mr Daniel Chia, also accused Ms Tay of forging a form to show that she had transferred the money from her own account to a London-based middleman in April 2014.

Ms Tay had shown the form, which bore the bank's stamp and an official signature, to Mr Tahir as proof. But her bank statements, which were disclosed by her lawyers only this month, showed no such transaction. Neither did she have such a large amount of money in her account at the time.

Ms Tay was under cross-examination in contempt of court proceedings, brought by Mr Tahir in December last year, for repeatedly breaching court orders to disclose her assets.

Mr Chia is seeking a jail term of four to seven months, arguing that Ms Tay, who had been found guilty last month, has been "thumbing her nose" at the court by remaining "oblivious" to the orders.

It was also revealed that she was made a bankrupt in November last year, and has faced at least 15 lawsuits and bankruptcy applications, filed by individuals and companies, who say she owed them money.

Ms Tay opened her first gallery, Jasmine Fine Arts, in 1993 and set up the Museum of Art and Design, or MAD, in 2009.

In March 2014, Mr Tahir - who goes by one name - paid her US$1.6 million for the Botero sculpture, known as Couple Dancing. Three months later, he paid her another US$38,100 for shipping fees.

The deal was called off in July that year. Mr Tahir contended she had failed to provide satisfactory evidence that the sculpture was being delivered to him. Ms Tay's version was that Mr Tahir backed out of the deal after alleging it was a fake.

He lodged a police report against her. Investigations are ongoing.

Separately, he filed a civil suit to get his money back, but dropped it after they had reached a settlement.

When Ms Tay reneged on her agreement to pay him, Mr Tahir filed a second suit. Judgment was entered against her after she failed to respond to it.

To enforce the judgment, Mr Tahir applied in October last year for Ms Tay to be questioned in court to determine the assets she had available for paying him back.

She ignored the court date and failed to complete a questionnaire about her finances.

Mr Tahir then obtained a Mareva injunction to freeze her assets. Under the order, she had to disclose her assets in Singapore within seven days.

She did not do this and was, again, a no-show at a rescheduled court hearing. The questionnaire remained incomplete - she chose to give only information that was already available in public records.

Yesterday, when grilled on why she had failed to attend the two hearings, Ms Tay's replies included: "I didn't know I needed to turn up", "I can't remember" and "I was not in the mood".

When Mr Chia asked if she had transferred US$1.6 million as shown in the form, she replied: "I think so." But after he confronted her with the bank statements, she remained silent and kept flipping the documents in front of her.

Judicial Commissioner Edmund Leow noted: "I think we can take that as a no."

However, at the end of the hearing, the judicial commissioner gave her one last chance. He told her it was a very serious matter and gave her till Feb 25 to comply with the orders. She will be sentenced after this deadline.

This article was first published on 12 February, 2016.
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