NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A former secretary to Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos was charged in New York Tuesday with conspiracy to sell valuable artworks that disappeared during the collapse of Marcos’ husband’s regime.
Vilma Bautista, 74, was indicted in Manhattan Supreme Court on charges of conspiracy, tax fraud and offering a false instrument for filing. Two of her nephews, Chaiyot Jansen Navalaksana and Pongsak Navalaksana, also were charged.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said Bautista used false paperwork to sell a work from Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” series for $32 million in September 2010.
“The integrity of the international art market must be protected,” Vance said in a statement. “This indictment sheds light on what happened to major works of art missing for more than 25 years.”
Bautista’s attorney, Fran Hoffinger, said her client got caught in a civil dispute between the Marcoses and the Philippine government.
“It’s a civil dispute,” Hoffinger said. “It doesn’t belong in criminal court.”
According to the indictment, Bautista was a foreign service officer assigned to the Philippine Mission to the United Nations, but unofficially served as Imelda Marcos’ New York-based personal secretary.
The indictment said that during the presidency of her husband, Ferdinand, Imelda Marcos used state assets to acquire a vast collection of artwork and other valuables. Prosecutors said some of the art ended up in Bautista’s possession after the Marcoses were ousted in a citizen revolt in 1986.
According to the indictment, the most valuable work was the 1899 Monet painting that was sold, “Japanese Footbridge over the Water-Lily Pond at Giverny.” There was also another Monet and Alfred Sisley’s “Langland Bay” from 1887.
Prosecutors said Bautista and her nephews plotted to sell the paintings and keep the proceeds tax-free.
The Marcos administration came down when the People Power Movement drove Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos into exile. Ferdinand Marcos and his administration had been plagued with evidence of widespread corruption and election fraud, and had infuriated many with a declaration of martial law that lasted for nine years beginning in 1972.
Imelda Marcos was also accused of involvement in the assassination of political opponent Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983.
In 1990, Imelda Marcos stood trial in New York on federal fraud and racketeering charges, stemming from claims that she helped loot her own country. She was ultimately acquitted.
Bautista pleaded not guilty. Bail was set at $175,000.
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