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Philippines seeks to recover 3 paintings owned by Imelda Marcos

Vilma Bautista, center, the ex-secretary of former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, smiles after her sentencing at the Manhattan Supreme Court in New York, Jan. 13, 2014. (SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters)

The Philippines is trying to recover three paintings, including one by French Impressionist master Claude Monet, that a former aide of Imelda Marcos has been jailed in the United States for trying to sell.

Vilma Bautista, 75, once a secretary to the powerful wife of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was sentenced Monday to six years in a New York prison for a scheme to sell art that once belonged to the former first lady.

Among the pieces that Bautista managed to sell was “Le Bassin aux Nymphéas” by Monet, from his famed water-lily series, that netted $32 million.

That one can’t be recovered, but the Philippines is determined to get back three unsold paintings that Bautista had in her possession: another Monet, “L’Église et la Seine à Vétheuil,” Alfred Sisley’s “Langland Bay” and Albert Marquet’s “Le Cyprès de Djenan Sidi Said”.

“We want the three paintings back,” Andres Bautista, chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, told reporters in Manila.

“We will recover them. They were acquired with state funds, so they belong to the Filipino people,” he said.

Andres Bautista is not related to Vilma Bautista.

Andres Bautista said the government would file a civil case in New York to recover the paintings. He did not give an estimate of their value.

Bautista headed an agency tasked in 1986 with recovering about $10 billion of ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies. He said about 150 works of art were being sought.

“This will take time; it may take a lifetime,” he said.

Vilma Bautista was convicted in November of conspiracy and tax fraud charges related to the sale or attempted sale of four museum-quality paintings acquired by Marcos during the two decades that her husband was president of the Philippines.

The art disappeared around 1986, when Marcos was ousted in a popular uprising. He died three years later in Hawaii.

Bautista sold Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nymphéas” for $32 million to a London gallery.

Imelda Marcos, 84, has been charged with civil and criminal crimes, but has never been jailed despite evidence of massive wealth accumulated during her husband’s 1965-86 rule, most famously in the form of her huge collection of designer shoes.

She is a congresswoman and has denied that her family’s wealth was ill-gotten.

— Reuters



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