Imelda Marcos
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[quote style=”boxed” ]Case arises from sale of valuable painting owned by PHL gov’t[/quote]

CHICAGO – A former Philippine foreign service officer, who also acted concurrently as personal secretary in New York of former First Lady Imelda R. Marcos, was sentenced last Jan. 13 to a prison term of from two to six years by Judge Renee A. White of the Supreme Court of New York in New York City.

Vilma Bautista, 75 years old, was earlier found guilty by a jury of criminal tax fraud for submitting false instrument when she filed her income tax and for conspiracy in connection with the sale of valuable works of art acquired by Mrs. Marcos during her husband’s presidency.

Aside from the prison sentence, Bautista was also ordered to pay $3.5 million in restitution to the State of New York. However, she stays out of prison pending resolution of her appeal as Judge White allowed her to “remain out on bail,” said sources at the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance.

Also found guilty of the same charges were Bautista’s two nephews and co-accused — Thai Americans Chaiyot Jansen Navalaksana, 38, and Pongsak Navalaksana, 41 — who allegedly conspired with her in selling art works that included the highly valuable Claude Monet’s “Water-Lily” painting, which the accused sold in September 2010 for $32 million. There was no information yet on their prison sentences.

All three accused were indicted in 2012 with conspiracy in the fourth degree. Bautista was also charged with criminal tax fraud in the first degree and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. Jansen is charged with criminal tax fraud in the fourth degree and offering a false Instrument for filing in the first degree.

It was stated in the indictment papers during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos used government assets to acquire a vast collection of artworks and other valuables. Many of the art pieces adorned the official Philippine government property in the Philippines and in Manhattan, New York.

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos fled the Philippines in February 1986 at the end of the EDSA I People Power revolution.

Immediately before and after the fall of the Marcos regime, a significant number of the art pieces and other valuables disappeared from Philippine government properties, including those at the Philippine Consulate townhouse in Manhattan. Since then, the Philippine government has conducted a campaign to recover missing and stolen assets acquired by the Marcoses.

Bautista was accused of having been aware of and having monitoring the campaign even while she was in possession of some of the valuable works of art which were the subjects of the recovery efforts.

In February 1986, the indictment stated, Bautista came into possession of numerous works of art acquired by the Marcoses during the Marcos’s presidency. These included the Claude Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nymphease” (also known as “Japanese Footbridge Over the Water-Lily Pond at Giverny”), 1899 (the “Water-Lily”).

Four of the paintings disappeared in 1986 when Marcos fell from power, and these ended up in the possession of Bautista who was accused of secretly keeping the paintings for many years.

In 2009, Bautista, with the assistance of her two nephews Jansen and Pongsak, attempted to covertly sell the paintings.

The indictment details the defendants’ acknowledgement of the illegal nature of their conduct and the need to legitimize it through email exchanges. They discussed the possibility that they might be “busted” while trying to sell the paintings in the “black market,” and expressed fear of being arrested and going to jail.

In the 1970s, Mrs. Marcos purchased three valuable paintings at a London gallery and took possession of them with instructions to deliver two of the paintings, the “Vetheuil” and “Langland Bay,” to the Malacanang Palace  (the official residence of the Philippine president), while she took possession of the “Water-Lily” painting. The “Vetheuil” and “Langland Bay” paintings were later shipped out of the country and brought to the Philippine townhouse in Manhattan.

The fourth painting – “Algerian View” – was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in Manila, but was shipped in 1982 to Imelda Marcos in New York City together with several other paintings.

According to court documents, the defendants focused their efforts on the most valuable painting, Claude Monet’s “Water-Lily,” and used a variety of illicit means to sell it. These included the use of false documents to establish Bautista’s purported legal authority to sell the painting and receive the proceeds.

The defendants successfully sold the “Water-Lily” in September 2010 to a London gallery for $32 million. It was alleged that Bautista distributed millions of dollars from the sales proceeds to Jansen and Pongsak as well as other unindicted co-conspirators, while she kept the largest share of the money.

In March and April 2011, Bautista and Jansen filed their New York State tax returns for 2010 in which they failed to disclose the sale of the “Water-Lily” painting or any income they received from the sale, thereby depriving New York State of millions of dollars in taxes.

Assistant District Attorneys Edward Starishevsky and Garrett Lynch, and former Assistant District Attorney Aaron Wolfson led the investigation and prosecution of the case under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy.