Art gallery owner admits keeping client's $2m

Ms Tay was due to be sentenced yesterday, but she had yet to give details of her personal bank account and the case was adjourned.
Ms Tay was due to be sentenced yesterday, but she had yet to give details of her personal bank account and the case was adjourned.PHOTO: BUSINESS TIMES

She earlier said his money was with London art dealer; client says she forged bank form

A high-profile Singapore art gallery owner has admitted to keeping US$1.4 million (S$2 million) out of US$1.6 million handed to her by Indonesian tycoon Tahir to buy a sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

Ms Jasmine Tay's admission was revealed yesterday in contempt of court proceedings taken by Mr Tahir against her after she repeatedly resisted disclosing information about her finances when he took steps to enforce a judgment against her to recover the money.

In her answers to a questionnaire faxed to Mr Tahir's lawyers on Thursday evening, Ms Tay said she was no longer in possession of the money the billionaire paid her in 2014. She said that US$1.4 million "was used as operational expenses for other purchases/deposits and drawings to myself", while US$200,000 "is currently with my agent".

This was different from the story that Ms Tay had earlier offered Mr Tahir to convince him that she had paid for the sculpture.

She had previously produced a bank form - complete with an official stamp and signature - to prove that she had transferred US$1.6 million from her OCBC account to a London-based art dealer.

At the last hearing on Feb 11, Mr Tahir's lawyer, Mr Daniel Chia, accused her of scamming his client and forging the bank form.

He confronted her with her own bank statements, which showed no such transfer. Nor did she have such a large sum of money in her account at the time.

Mr Tahir, 63, a banking and property magnate, is one of Indonesia's richest men and a philanthropist who joined forces with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the health of poor Indonesians.

Ms Tay, 49, opened her first gallery here, Jasmine Fine Art, in 1993, and set up the MAD Museum of Art and Design in 2009.

In March 2014, Mr Tahir 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. He contended she had failed to show that the sculpture was being delivered to him. Her version was that Mr Tahir backed out of the deal after alleging it was a fake.

He lodged a police report against her and filed a civil suit to get his money back, but dropped it after they reached a settlement. When she reneged on her agreement to pay him, he filed a second suit, which he won after she failed to respond.

To enforce the judgment, he applied for Ms Tay to be questioned in court to determine the assets she had available for paying him back.

She ignored the Oct 23 court date and failed to complete a questionnaire about her finances. The hearing was rescheduled to Nov 13 but she was again a no-show.

Mr Tahir took contempt proceedings against her in December. She was found guilty last month.

She was due to be sentenced yesterday after being given two weeks to comply. But she had yet to give details of her UOB personal account. Her lawyer, Mr Dason L., cited a letter from the bank, dated Wednesday, saying it needed two to three days to provide the information.

Judicial Commissioner Edmund Leow said he was "not happy" with her delay in getting details from the bank, but granted an adjournment. Mr Chia sought a four- to seven- month jail sentence for Ms Tay at the last hearing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline 'Art gallery owner admits keeping client's $2m'. Print Edition | Subscribe