New Delhi: A Delhi court has issued Letters Rogatory to the Home Office, United Kingdom to allow the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe the case of a famous Russian artist's paintings being stolen from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute here and presented to a London auction house by a Pakistani and a British resident.
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vinod Yadav ordered issuance of Letters Rogatory in favour of the Home Office, UK with a request to the authorities concerned to allow the CBI to conduct a probe into the matter.
The case pertains to 13 paintings of Russian painter Nicholas Roerich, including two paintings titled "Himalaya Kanchenjunga" and 'Sunset Kashmir' which were in possession of IARI, Pusa Road.
The two paintings were found stolen from the library of IARI where they were hanging till May 30, 2009, when accused N S Pakhale retired as head of library services.
He handed over the keys of library office to his successor 15 days after retirement.
After Mr Pakhale's retirement in 2009, it came to IARI's notice that the two paintings were presented to Sotheby's London for auction by Zahid Nazir, a resident of Pakistan and Rafay Nazir Khan, a resident of Park Street in London.
The case was registered on a complaint by Dr H S Gaur, Dean and Joint director (education), IARI.
During investigation, the CBI found that in December, 1947 M S Randhawa, ICS, the then deputy commissioner of Delhi had arranged an exhibition of Roerich's paintings at All India Fine Art & Craft Society here.
Randhawa had collected funds for building libraries and other cultural purposes and out of that fund, he had purchased many of Roerich's paintings, which came to be housed with IARI.
The two paintings were photographed by various research scholars and photographers from time to time and were last inspected in year 2005 by a team from National Museum.
After the matter came to the knowledge of the Indian authorities, the attorney of Nazir and Khan wrote to the director of IARI on May 16, 2011, claiming that they were the owners and consignees of 'Himalaya Kenchenjunga' and 'Sunset Kashmir'.
The attorney further claimed that the two paintings have been in the family ownership and possession of Nazir and Khan since at least late 1960s or early 1970s and were kept at their family home in Lahore until they were shifted to Sotheby's in year 2010.
The CBI submitted before the court that it was necessary to conduct investigation in the UK to collect evidence to ascertain that the two paintings were stolen from IARI and presented to Sotheby's London by Nazir and Khan to derive pecuniary gain.
The investigating agency told the court it has already been accorded approval by the Ministry of Home Affairs to seek legal assistance in the probe from the government of UK.