NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A former secretary to Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos was convicted in Manhattan Tuesday of conspiring to sell a $32 million painting by Claude Monet that the Philippine government claims to own.
Vilma Bautista was also found guilty of tax fraud and of using a fake document to authorize her sale of the painting, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
The 1899 water-lily painting was among four works that came into Bautista’s possession after the fall of the Marcos government in 1986. She sold it in 2010 to a London gallery.
According to the indictment in the case, 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.
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.
The defense said Bautista believed that first lady Imelda Marcos owned the paintings and that Bautista had authority to sell them for her, though she never turned over the proceeds.
Ownership of the Monet is being determined in civil courts.
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.
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