Imelda Marcos aide convicted of conspiracy in theft of Impressionist masterpieces

Claude Monet's "Japanese Footbridge Over the Water-Lily Pond at Giverny" was set to be sold at auction for $43 million before it was seized by New York authorities. New York County District Attorney's Office

Imelda Marcos' former personal secretary was convicted Monday in the disappearance of four masterpieces after the former first lady and her husband, the late President Ferdinand Marcos, were driven out of the Philippines in 1986.

Just one of the paintings — a Claude Monet "Water Lilies" oil — was set to be sold at auction in 2010 for a breathtaking $32 million, prosecutors said.

A New York jury needed only 2½ hours Monday to convict Vilma Bautista, 75, of criminal tax fraud, conspiracy and filing false documents with a government agency. A sentencing date hasn't been set.

Bautista was a Foreign Service officer assigned to the Philippines' mission to the U.N. from the early 1970s until the Marcoses fled the country in the 1986 revolution. She continued working as Imelda Marcos' personal secretary in exile in New York.

The Marcoses acquired the masterpieces and many other valuables using state assets during Ferdinand Marcos' despotic rule from 1965 to 1986 and took many with them in exile.

The Philippine government says 146 paintings worth hundreds of millions of dollars — including works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Rembrandt van Rijn, Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh, in addition to Monet — remain missing. Officials have been trying to get them back ever since.

The four paintings in this case vanished from Imelda Marcos' New York home sometime during the 1980s and were kept hidden by Bautista for almost 25 years until she tried to sell them on the black market in cahoots with two of her nephews, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors told jurors that Bautista conspired to keep the booty for herself and hide the proceeds from state tax authorities.

New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance said Monday that the conviction "finally solves the mystery of what happened to four masterpieces of Impressionist art."

They are:

  • "Le Bassin aux Nymphease" (also known as "Japanese Footbridge Over the Water-Lily Pond at Giverny"), painted in 1899 by Monet. A Swiss hedge fund manager agreed to pay $32 million for the painting in 2010, although reports at the time said it could have gone for as much as $43 million.
  • "L'Eglise et La Seine a Vetheuil" (also known as "L'Eglise a Vetheuil"), painted in 1881 by Monet. Bautista and her nephews hoped to get $20 million for it, according to the indictment.
  • "Langland Bay," painted in 1887 by Alfred Sisley.
  • "Le Cypres de Djenan Sidi Said" (also known as "Algerian View"), painted in 1946 by Albert Marquet.

The indictment didn't put any dollar value on the Sisley or Marquet works.

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