State Courts seize assets of Mandala Fine Art gallery

Artworks from Mandala Fine Art in the warehouse of storage company Alliance Logistics on Feb 11, 2017. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - Assets allegedly belonging to shuttered Singapore art gallery Mandala Fine Art were seized by the State Courts on April 19 on behalf of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board.

The gallery was convicted in September 2016 for not paying CPF contributions to its employees.

A CPF Board spokesman says that it "had applied for a warrant to seize and sell the assets belonging to the company, in order to recover CPF arrears owed to employees", following the gallery's failure to pay.

The assets currently seized include over 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 there since the end of 2015.

The Straits Times reported in February that the gallery had gone bust, leaving more than 200 pieces of art stuck in two storage spaces here, which say they have not been paid rent amounting to at least $65,000.

The company also owes about $17,000 in unpaid salaries to three former employees.

The whereabouts of the gallery's Sri Lankan owner, Mr Vitharana Mudiyanselage Hemasiri Vitharana, is unknown. E-mails sent by The Straits Times to Mr Vitharana went unanswered.

The CPF Board spokesman adds that "only assets belonging to Mandala Fine Art can be sold to recover the CPF arrears" and 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", says the e-mail.

The State Courts' stickers have been pasted on the artworks, which means that they cannot be removed without the written approval of the courts.

The artworks will then remain with Oceanic Logistics and its owners "may liaise with the logistics company which is holding onto any artworks on behalf of Mandala".

United Kingdom artist Jeremy Paul has mailed out his agreement with Mandala Fine Art to the CPF Board. He had sent three paintings, valued at about S$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 says.

He also raises concerns 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 rent to date.

Mr Gary Yeo, an owner of Oceanic Logistics, says he is complying with the court orders and is "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," says Mr Yeo.

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 (MOM) website, the company was convicted of four charges of non-payment on Sept 27, 2016.

It will have to pay a $4,400 penalty in court fees, but no other details were given.

MOM says it is taking its own enforcement action against the company and the director for these unpaid salaries. This is unrelated to the current enforcement action undertaken by the CPF Board.

The second storage company, Alliance Logistics located in Yishun, says it has not been contacted by the authorities. It has about 100 artworks under the gallery's name in its storage facility.

"As of now, nobody has contacted us except some artists asking about the status of Mandala Fine Art," says 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.

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