| Some of the seized paintings. Picture by Soumi Bhattacharya
Santiniketan, Oct. 17: Investigators disguised as art collectors today stumbled on as many as 40 paintings, some of which were being flogged as works of Somnath Hore, Ramkinkar Beij and Satyajit Ray, in a studio near Santiniketan.
Police said experts would determine whether the paintings are genuine but added that the seizure points to a thriving racket in stolen/fake paintings as well as artefacts in and around Rabindranath Tagore’s “abode of peace”.
The painting attributed to Beij did not have his signature, prompting the police to consider it a fake.
The haul includes a few purported prints by Tagore, too, but the director of the Rabindra Bhavan museum in Visva-Bharati said these were not stolen during the Nobel medal heist.
At least 10 idols in bronze and wood, said to be antiques, were also seized.
Rohitashwa Ghosh, the owner of Charukala Studio in Bolpur where the “transaction” was about to take place, and three others have been arrested.
The police are probing whether they had any link with the Nobel medal robbery in 2004. The CBI has joined the investigation.
“We have come to know that a racket in stolen and fake paintings and other art objects is operating in the Bolpur-Santiniketan area and the works are being sold to unsuspecting collectors,” said Debashis Dhar, the sub-divisional police officer of Bolpur.
The police moved after a tip-off, picking three officers fluent in Hindi for the operation. One officer disguised himself as a Sikh and the group checked into a hotel near Santiniketan.
Soon, one of their conduits started a whisper campaign that three businessman had arrived from Delhi to buy rare paintings and artefacts. The owner of a lodge in Bolpur bit the bait and took the three to the house of an ex-serviceman, Chandan Mondal.
The “Sikh collector” carried a briefcase that had cash amounting to “Rs 7 lakh” —genuine notes were only at the top and at the bottom of each bundle.
Chandan showed them a wooden clock that he claimed was 100 years old. But the “businessmen” pressed for more. Chandan then took them to the studio.
Rohitashwa played safe initially but, pushed by the prospective buyers, he agreed to show them some “rare” works, the police said.
Once the “money” was shown, Rohitashwa offered them drinks and brought out 40 paintings with purported signatures of Hore, who died recently, and Ray.
As soon as the paintings were brought out, the officers made a pre-arranged missed call and a force that was waiting outside moved in and made the arrests.