Secretary to Imelda Marcos faces jail for $32 million art sale fraud

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art sale fraud
Former First Lady Imelda Marcos shows off some of treasures she amassed during her husband’s years in power

A former secretary to Imelda Marcos has surrendered to serve up six years in prison for a multi-million art sale fraud.

Vilma Bautista, aged 79, who has been free, pending appeal, since being found guilty in 2013 and sentenced to two to six years in prison.

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The fourth-degree conspiracy count she faced was thrown out by a New York appeals court but her conviction for criminal tax fraud and offering a false instrument remained.

Bautista handed herself to the authorities over the art sale fraud on Monday, December 4.

Bautista insisted she was the rightful owner of Claude Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nympheas,” which she sold for $32 million. However, prosecutors argued that it legally belonged to the Philippine government.

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She also failed to pay taxes on her profits from the sale, according to the Manhattan District Attorney.

She acquired the artwork and other valuable pieces at the Marcos family’s Upper East Side townhouse in the 1980s the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos had been overthrown by the People Power movement.

Bautista’s attorney, Roberto Cardenas, said his client was “absolutely petrified” about going to prison. However, he emphasised that she was “a fighter”, having survived three heart operations.

“She’s small. She’s frail. It’s a tough situation,” he said.

Bautista “is still shocked at the idea they say she’s been convicted of a crime,” her lawyer said. “She doesn’t believe that she committed a crime.”

In July, we reported how the Philippine government agency working to recover the ill-gotten fortune amassed the Marcos clan may be scrapped.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government was set up to recover the estimated $10 billion looted by the dictator and his allies during his 20 years in power.

The agency has recovered about $3.4 billion in ill-gotten wealth, including jewellery, art and other assets.

However, despite the announcement, the commission is continuing to operate and has recently advertised a vacant staff position.

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