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Auction heat on stamp collector

New Delhi, Jan. 20: Stamp collector Dilip P. Shah was booked by the Central Bureau of Investigation for auctioning a rare collection of antiques in England in 2001. Now, the bureau will send letters rogatory to Britain and America to verify Shah’s claim that the stamp collection belonged to his NRI brother who had listed it at Spink and Son for auction.

Shah, the winner of PhilaKorea 94, a showcase event for stamp collectors, was booked under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972.

Now, the CBI is sending a letter rogatory to Britain to ascertain that the stamps owned by Shah are those shown in photocopies and an auction catalogue seized by the bureau during a search of Shah’s Jabalpur residence. It also seeks to find out how Spink and Son got the stamps.

Another letter rogatory — to the US — is being sent to find out if the stamps actually belong to Dilip Shah’s Atlanta-based brother Dhiraj.

CBI sources said the draft report of the letters rogatory was sent to the Union home ministry for clearance more than a week ago. Once cleared by the ministry, the report would go to the Union law ministry for vetting, after which a local court would dispatch the letters rogatory to Britain and America.

Shah, who has collections of rare stamps, wanted to exhibit them at the grand prix in Seoul in 1994. In the export permit he obtained from the Archaeological Survey of India, he declared that the stamps belonged to him.

He got the permit, displayed 540 stamps at PhilaKorea and won the grand prix. He returned with all the stamps.

Shah, who was the general secretary of Philatelic Congress, a private association of stamp collectors, also participated in a Singapore competition the next year and returned with all the stamps.

The CBI said Shah decided to auction more than 160 antique stamps at Spink and Son in October 2001.

Shah said he decided to sell them to get his finances in order before retiring.

However, the auction could not take place as the Indian High Commission in London objected to it, the CBI sources said.

Shah says, as the stamps were owned by a member of the family, he did not realise it was essential to specify — at the time of obtaining the permit to display the stamps at Seoul and Singapore — that the stamps were actually owned by his brother and not him.

Shah’s collections are believed to be one of the finest, some of them depicting a human head and Queen Victoria and East India Company emblems. One of the stamps is pasted on an envelope addressed to the “Maharani of Cossipore” in West Bengal. The prices of the stamps, which included 2 anna and 4 anna ones, at the aborted auction ranged from £200-18,000.

CBI sources said people continue to export antique stamps for hefty sums. A senior CBI officer said stamp collectors should be aware of the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act to avoid coming under the police scanner.

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