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April 15, 2014

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Missing art dealer suspected of foul play

SCORES of clients of a downtown art and antique investment company are crying foul after the business abruptly closed its doors on Sunday and its boss disappeared.

A total of 82 investors and owners claim they have been swindled out of a combined 3.65 million yuan (US$587,000), the local industry and commerce administration said.

Officials from the administration said they are trying to locate the boss of the Shanghai branch of Tongbao Antiques and Art International Holdings Ltd and will press him to return the missing funds and artworks.

A notice seen yesterday on the window of the company’s offices on 789 Wanhangdu Road in Jing’an District said only that the business had closed.

Several of the alleged victims claim they paid Tongbao to handle the sale of their treasures, Xinmin Evening News reported.

A man surnamed Yu, who has been a Tongbao client since 2009, said he had lost almost 280,000 yuan. As well as failing to give him the proceeds from the sale of two jade pots, he said the company cheated him out of several trustee fees and commission payments.

In another case, a man surnamed Jin said he paid Tongbao 10,000 yuan two years ago to cover the cost of selling a dressing box made in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

If the item had been sold, Jin would have been expected to pay 15 percent of the sale price as commission. But the item did not sell, so according to Jin he should have paid Tongbao only 2,000 yuan in annual trustee fees, and was therefore owed 8,000 yuan.

“This is a clear case of fraud,” said Zhou Jianguo, secretary-general of the Shanghai Auction Trade Association.

“Tongbao wasn’t a real auction house but just claimed it could sell people’s art collections for them.”

The property managers of Tongbao’s office said the firm owed more than 200,000 yuan in rent and unpaid bills.


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