Who de­serves millions in art seized from Mar­cos regime?

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Jake Pearson

NEW YORK >> A mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar trove of seized Im­pres­sion­ist art be­lieved to have been owned by the regime of Philip­pine dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos has sat for five years in a cli­mate­con­trolled Brook­lyn ware­house, the sub­ject of a bit­ter le­gal fight.

At is­sue is whether the 50 works — which in­clude an 1881 paint­ing by Claude Monet — should go to thou­sands of vic­tims of the now-dead dic­ta­tor, to the cur­rent Philip­pine govern­ment or to the per­sonal sec­re­tary to Imelda Mar­cos, who con­tends she was right­fully given some of the art as gifts.

“It’s a ques­tion of who is the owner and who is en­ti­tled,” said Robert Swift, a hu­man rights at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing nearly 10,000 vic­tims of the Mar­cos regime who in 2011 won a judg­ment against Mar­cos, his es­tate and Imelda, his wife.

Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in the long-run­ning, multi-ju­ris­dic­tional case is an 1899 Monet from the “Wa­ter Lilies” series called “Le Bassin aux Nym­phéas,” that the sec­re­tary, Vilma Bautista, sold in 2010 for $32 mil­lion. The other highly dis­puted items are three other prom­i­nent paint­ings still locked away in stor­age — an 1897 Al­fred Sis­ley paint­ing called “Lang­land Bay”; Monet’s 1881 “L’Eglise et La Seine a Vetheuil”; and Al­bert Mar­quet’s 1946 “Le Cyprès de Dje­nan Sidi Saïd.”

Both the govern­ment agency es­tab­lished by the Philip­pines to re­cover bil­lions of dol­lars in as­sets be­lieved to have been amassed dur­ing Mar­cos’ 14-year regime, the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mis­sion on Good Govern­ment, and Swift be­lieve they’re en­ti­tled to the paint­ings.

“My client has noth­ing against the hu­man rights vic­tims,” said Casey Mur­phy, the Amer­i­can lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the com­mis­sion. “Our point is, if th­ese were paint­ings ac­cu­mu­lated through mis­ap­pro­pri­ated funds, they should go to all Filipinos and not just one class of peo­ple and their lawyers.”

And then there’s Bautista, who kept $28 mil­lion when she sold the wa­ter lily to a Pana­ma­nian cor­po­ra­tion con­trolled by a Lon­don-based art gallery. That gallery then sold the paint­ing to a Bri­tish hedge fund man­ager in Switzer­land for $43 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to court pa­pers.

The hedge fund man­ager has paid $10 mil­lion to Swift’s clients. The Filipino govern­ment has also sought to re­cover the paint­ing.

New York City pros­e­cu­tors charged Bautista with fail­ing to dis­close the sale on her 2010 tax re­turns, and she was con­victed af­ter a five-week trial in 2013 of con­spir­acy, tax fraud and other charges. About $15 mil­lion of her funds were frozen by the courts.

A lawyer for Bautista, who is now 78 and free while ap­peal­ing her con­vic­tion, hasn’t re­turned a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment. At the time, her lawyers ar­gued she had the right to sell the Monet, which was owned by Imelda Mar­cos. The other paint­ings were given to her as gifts or ob­tained on her own, her lawyers have ar­gued.

Ul­ti­mately, it will be up to a Man­hat­tan fed­eral judge to sort it all out.

In the mean­time, the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mis­sion has es­tab­lished a web­site to so­licit tips as to the lo­ca­tion of hun­dreds of paint­ings and jewelry that Mar­cos, now 87 and a con­gress­woman in the Philip­pines, and her fam­ily al­legedly ob­tained with state funds.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Mar­cos said the con­gress­woman had no com­ment on the art.

Mur­phy said he hoped a judge would agree with the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mis­sion’s po­si­tion that since Imelda Mar­cos ul­ti­mately ob­tained the paint­ings im­prop­erly, she was never a right­ful owner.

“In the main, the ar­gu­ment is a thief never gets good ti­tle to prop­erty,” he said.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS, FILE

In this Sept. 26, 1982 photo, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Fer­di­nand Mar­cos and First Lady Imelda Mar­cos ap­pear at a rally in the Los An­ge­les Sports Arena. A mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar trove of seized Im­pres­sion­ist art be­lieved to have been owned by the regime of the late Philip­pine dic­ta­tor has sat for five years in a cli­mate-con­trolled New York ware­house, the sub­ject of a bit­ter le­gal fight. At is­sue is whether the 50 works should go to thou­sands of Mar­cos’ vic­tims, to the cur­rent Filipino govern­ment or to the sec­re­tary to Imelda Mar­cos, who con­tends she was right­fully given some of the art as gifts.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.