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Mystery surrounds the sale of a painting of Mahatma Gandhi that was auctioned for R35000 at a fundraiser but that the artist claims was stolen from him.

Artist Ashley Moonsamy, a lecturer at Thekwini College, claims the painting was taken to a Durban art store and framers in 2013 to be framed by Prethevie Mohanlall.

Mohanlall, who owned Nico’s Art and Frames in the Durban CBD, which is now based at the Stables Lifestyle Market, allegedly told Moonsamy that the painting had been stolen by one of his employees.

However, Moonsamy was shocked when he discovered recently that the painting had been auctioned at a Shotokan Karate International South Africa (Skisa) 50th anniversary fundraising event at the Durban University of Technology’s Ritson campus last week.

He made enquiries into its sale and has since opened a charge of theft against Mohanlall.

“I had taken two of my original paintings to him in 2013 to be framed. One was a Jacob Zuma painting and the other was Gandhi. I was a former client of his and left the paintings in his possession to be framed,” said Moonsamy.

Several attempts to get the framed painting back were made, but to no avail.

“I went into the store and requested for the painting multiple times but excuses were always given. On most occasions Mohanlall was never present at the store," said Moonsamy.

"Eventually, the store was closed down and moved to the Stables Lifestyle Market. I tracked down Mohanlall there and he said he was willing to pay me R3000 for the painting as it was stolen from him by an employee. I did not budge as this upset me.”

Sonny Pillay of Skisa confirmed that the painting had been bought from Nico’s in 2013.

He said the painting was purchased on behalf of the Skisa Trust, which had been a long-standing client of Nico’s.

“I’m baffled by the claim that this painting was stolen.

"We legitimately purchased the painting for R4650 at the time using the Skisa Trust. This was the second time that we had auctioned it. The first time, there was a problem with the bidder’s payment,” said a shocked Pillay.

The Sunday Tribune has also seen the bank statements reflecting the payment to Nico’s.

When contacted for comment, Mohanlall gave two different versions.

In an initial conversation with the Sunday Tribune he claimed the painting had been stolen by an employee who had requested to take it to be viewed by a potential buyer.

“The employee, who I only knew as Joseph, then took off with the painting and never returned. I couldn’t even open a case against him because I didn’t have his full details,” said Mohanlall.

When the Sunday Tribune returned to Mohanlall for comment after Skisa had confirmed that it had purchased the painting, Mohanlall said he was “confused”.

He claimed he had mixed up the facts.

“I am not denying that Skisa could have bought the painting. Yes, they could have bought the painting from me, but I sometimes have more than one Gandhi painting and maybe at the time, my employee stole the other Gandhi painting, which I had mistaken for Moonsamy’s painting," he said.

"I did offer to pay him something for the stolen painting which I thought was his, but he refused my offer.”

Mohanlall said he was aware that a criminal charge had been laid against him and that he was the one who had advised Moonsamy to open the charge if he felt that he had stolen his painting.

Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele confirmed that a case of theft of a painting had been opened at Durban Central Police Station and that the matter was under investigation.

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Sunday Independent