- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - A former aide to ex-Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos was sentenced Monday to two to six years in prison after being convicted of scheming to sell a $32 million Claude Monet painting overlaid with political intrigue: It’s part of a roster of valuables the Philippine government has sought to reclaim from the former first couple.

Prosecutors have said the ex-assistant, Vilma Bautista, greedily peddled ill-gotten treasure. Defense lawyers said she was caught up in a clash between a government and its ousted leader.

Bautista plans to appeal and has “substantial issues” to raise, defense attorneys Susan and Fran Hoffinger said after the sentencing.

Bautista also was ordered to pay about $3.5 million in state taxes. She was convicted in November of charges including conspiracy and tax fraud.

The case “finally solves the mystery of what happened to four masterpieces of Impressionist art,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said then.

The 1899 Monet, from the French painter’s famed “Water Lilies” series, and other art ended up in Bautista’s hands after vanishing when a 1986 “people power” revolt sent longtime President Ferdinand Marcos into exile in Hawaii. He died three years later.

During his two decades in power, his wife became known for excess, symbolized by her gargantuan shoe collection.

The Philippines claims the Marcoses acquired billions of dollars’ worth of property with the nation’s money. The country has spent years seizing companies, bank accounts and other assets believed to be part of that trove.

The Marcoses denied their wealth was ill-gotten, and Imelda Marcos has emerged relatively unscathed from hundreds of legal cases against her and her late husband. She is now a congresswoman in the Philippines.

Bautista was a foreign service officer assigned to the Philippine Mission to the United Nations and later served as Imelda Marcos’ New York-based personal secretary.

By 2009, Bautista was mired in debt, and prosecutors said she resorted to trying to sell four paintings the Marcoses had acquired during the presidency. Besides the water lily painting, they included another Monet and works by Alfred Sisley and Albert Marquet.

Bautista ultimately sold the water lily painting - “Le Bassin aux Nymphease,” also known as “Japanese Footbridge Over the Water-Lily Pond at Giverny” - for $32 million to a Swiss buyer. Some proceeds went to Bautista’s debts, relatives and associates, and $15 million stayed in her bank accounts, prosecutors said.

They said Imelda Marcos, who didn’t testify at Bautista’s trial, knew nothing of the sale.

Bautista’s lawyers said she believed that Imelda Marcos rightfully owned the paintings and that Bautista had authority to sell them for her. Bautista never had a chance to give Marcos the money, the defense said.

The artworks’ ownership is being determined in civil courts.


Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @jennpeltz.

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