Investors say paintings in which they invested were priced too high and hence could not find any buyers. Copal not too keen on promised buyback, says it was a “goodwill gesture”
Investors, who put their money into art funds launched by Copal Art in 2006, have alleged that they have been cheated by the management and haven't got their money back.
Copal's business model allowed investors to actually possess the paintings they invested in. Later, when the paintings would appreciate in value, they were to be sold through Copal's portals. Investors were promised multiple returns.
About a year ago, the company offered to buy back those paintings owned by its investors that had remained unsold. Investors, however, have complained that the exercise has not resulted in returns.
"There are four cases of cheque bounce and stop payments. These investors got money from Copal after sending legal notices. It's very difficult to believe Copal's promises and after the cases of cheques bouncing, investors are afraid of sending the painting (to Copal) without receiving the amount on the cheque," says Sachin Kaluskar, a financial advisor. Back in 2006, Mr Kaluskar was a partner of InvestmentIdea Financial Services that handled many transactions for those investing with Copal.
Strangely, Copal denies it is an art fund and says there is no buyback policy. "We would like to clarify that Copal is not a fund. Copal is an art advisory for emerging and established collectors of art," says Ajay Seth, chief mentor, Copal Art. "According to our service terms and conditions, we do not offer a buyback facility. The buyback service was an exceptional service provided as a goodwill gesture."
Mr Seth insists there are no instances of investors not receiving their money in full if they have returned the paintings to Copal, and that they are always in touch with their clients.
Investors, have a different story. Amit Makwana, from Junagadh, had invested in Copal's art fund, and also got some of his friends to do so. "I have not got my Rs2 lakh back. I had invested in a painting which was priced at Rs7,500 per sq ft on canvas. Now, I cannot sell at such a price, so I am holding back."
One of Mr Makwana's friends threatened Copal with legal action, after which, the fund agreed to buy back his paintings. However, Copal asked him not to deposit the cheque that he received, saying that the money was being transferred. When the cheque was deposited after two-three months, it was revealed that there was a stop payment order against it. When the investor threatened to go to court, Copal transferred his funds to his account.
Baroda-based advocate Amit Shah has filed legal complaints against Copal on behalf of two investors. "One investor got his money back after almost six months of dilly-dallying, after we filed a criminal complaint under Section 138 of the Indian Penal Code when the cheques for the buyback scheme bounced. Copal also claims that the paintings were damaged, which is a lie, because investors know how to take care of their investments. My second client has a huge portfolio of Rs45 lakh with Copal, and his case has suffered the same delay."
Though Copal denies not paying any investor, there have been many complaints. A chemical trader from Surat is following up with Copal for payment on behalf of his friends as well, but they have not received any money. A managing director of a chemical company is saddled with a Kishore Shinde painting-cum-sculpture since 2008, which hasn't found any buyers despite Copal's assurances.
Copal Art, a gallery in New Delhi, launched two art funds at a time when the economy was going through a short 'feel-good' phase. Unlike high-flying Osians which catered to HNIs, Copal said it was different-it allowed people to enter with an amount of Rs1 lakh.
But with the recession in 2008, all dreams crashed. Investors discovered that Copal had priced the paintings so high that there were no takers in the market. Replying to a question, Mr Seth said art had to be withheld for 3-4 years for value appreciation. Pressured by investors who threatened legal action, Copal decided to buy back the paintings from investors. The buyback is expected to finish by December.
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