Assets allegedly belonging to shuttered Singapore art gallery Mandala Fine Art were seized by the State Courts last week on behalf of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board.
The gallery was convicted in September last year of non-payment of CPF contributions to its employees.
A board spokesman said it "had applied for a warrant to seize and sell the assets belonging to the companyto recover CPF arrears owed to employees", following the gallery's failure to pay the arrears.
The assets seized include more than 100 artworks estimated to be worth $1 million, by at least 38 artists who hail from different countries, including South Africa, France and Indonesia. The artworks have been stored since end 2015.
The Straits Times reported in February that the gallery had gone bust, leaving more than 200 pieces of art stuck in two storage facilities here, which said they have not been paid rental fees which amount to at least $65,000. The gallery also owes about $17,000 in unpaid salaries to three former employees.
The whereabouts of its Sri Lankan owner Vitharana Mudiyanselage Hemasiri Vitharanaare unknown.
E-mails sent by The Straits Times to him went unanswered.
The board spokesman adds that "only assets belonging to Mandala Fine Art can be sold to recover the CPF arrears" and it is inviting artists who believe their works are being held in Oceanic Logistics' premises to "claim ownership of their artwork by filing claims with the court bailiff".
The Straits Times understands that at least 11 artists have made or plan to make a claim to prevent the artworks from being sold.
According to an e-mail from the CPF Board, sent to one of the artists whose works are believed to have been seized, they have until May 10 to do so.
Once "the court is satisfied that the assets do not belong to Mandala, it will issue a written notice to authorise the logistics company to remove the court stickers", said the e-mail.
The State Courts' stickers have been pasted on the artworks, which means they cannot be removed without the written approval of the courts.
The works will then remain with Oceanic Logistics and their owners "may liaise with the logistics company which is holding onto any artworks on behalf of Mandala".
British artist Jeremy Paul has mailed his agreement with Mandala Fine Art to the CPF Board. He had sent three paintings valued at about $10,000 to Singapore for an exhibition mounted by the gallery in 2015.
"These (documents) clearly show no rights of ownership were transferred (to Mandala) and that the artworks should have been returned to me at the end of the exhibition and not put into storage," he said.
He also raises concern that "even if the court recognises my ownership, the artworks remain under Oceanic Logistics' control and (the owner) seems unwilling to release them".
Mandala owes Oceanic Logistics at least $25,000 in rental fees to date.
When contacted, Mr Gary Yeo, an owner of the storage facility, said he is complying with the court orders and "waiting for further instructions" before he decides what to do. "It is appropriate to follow everything by the book according to the court orders. We need to protect the interests of our company," he added.
The CPF Board did not reveal the amount it is looking to recover. According to a list of employers convicted under the CPF Act published on the Ministry of Manpower website, the company was convicted of four charges of non-payment on Sept 27 last year.
It will have to pay a $4,400 penalty in court fees, but no other details were given.
The ministry said it is taking enforcement action against the company and the director for the unpaid salaries. This is unrelated to the enforcement action undertaken by the CPF Board.
The second storage company, Alliance Logistics located in Yishun, said it has not been contacted by the authorities. It has about 100 artworks under the gallery's name in its storage facility.
"Nobody has contacted us except some artists asking about the status of Mandala Fine Art," said Mr Benson Toh from Alliance Logistics.
The company is owed more than a year's rent by Mandala Fine Art, amounting to about $40,000.