The former personal secretary to Imelda Marcos has been accused of conspiring to sell art works - including a $32million Monet painting — which disappeared during the collapse of her husband's regime in the Philippines. Vilma Bautista, 74, is alleged to have taken the paintings, which included a work from Monet's Water Lilies series, from the Philippine consulate in Manhattan, during the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
She is then alleged to have hidden them for more than two decades before selling the Monet to a London gallery in September 2010. Bautista is alleged to have sold Le Bassin aux Nympheas for $32million. She is also accused of failing to pay tax on the profits she made from the painting and of being in possession of Monet's L'Eglise et La Seine a Vetheuil, Alfred Sisley's Langland Bay and Albert Marquet's Le Cypres de Djenan Sidi Said.
Bautista was indicted in Manhattan on charges of conspiracy, tax fraud and offering a false instrument for filing. She pleaded not guilty and bail was set at $175,000 (pounds 110,000). Two of her nephews, Chaiyot Jensen Navalaksana, 37, and Pongsak Navalaksana, 40, were also charged. If convicted, Bautista could face up to 25 years in jail and her nephews four years. There is no suggestion that Marcos had anything to do with the conspiracy. The indictment says that the works of art were bought by the famously extravagant Marcos, who is said to have owned a shoe collection comprising 2,700 pairs.
The charge sheet says: "During her husband's presidency, Imelda Marcos used state assets to acquire a vast collection of artwork and other valuables. Much of the art adorned official Philippine government property in the Philippines and Manhattan." It goes on to say that Bautista worked as a Philippine government official to the United Nations from the 1970s to 1986 and continued as a personal secretary for years afterwards.
The indictment claims that, after the fall of the Marcos regime, the Philippine government launched a campaign to try to find the works, and that Ms Bautista was aware of it but ignored it. Bautista's lawyer Fran Hoffinger, said the allegations should not have been brought before criminal court. "It's a civil dispute," he said.