MANILA (AFP) – The Philippines will file a civil suit in the United States to recover a Monet painting that vanished after the 1986 revolution which forced former first lady Imelda Marcos into exile, an official said Monday.
The painting, one of more than 150 missing masterpieces the Philippines authorities are trying to recover, was sold by a one-time secretary of Marcos, said Andres Bautista, head of the watchdog body tasked with recovering the Marcos wealth.
“We are initiating a civil lawsuit in order to recover the painting, (and) also to recover the proceeds of the (sale of the) painting including bank accounts of more than $50 million,” he told foreign correspondents.
Marcos’ former secretary Vilma Bautista, 75, was convicted by a US court in November of trying to sell part of the Marcos family’s hoard of artworks and other luxuries accumulated during the corrupt rule of strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.
Andres Bautista, the government official, said the former secretary “said she was just holding monies for Mrs Marcos,” who is now a congresswoman in the Philippines.
He also said the government wanted to recover five million dollars paid to two of the secretary’s nephews in Hong Kong for facilitating the sale of the Monet.
The painting, one of the famous impressionist’s water lily series, had been taken along with three other works in late 1995 from the walls of a New York townhouse owned by the Philippine government.
Manila had created an entire government department to track down any ill-gotten wealth from the Marcos regime, much of which disappeared in the aftermath of the 1986 revolution.
Andres Bautista said his agency, the Presidential Commission on Good Government, had recovered about four billion dollars in assets from the Marcos family and their allies but that large amounts were still missing or being contested in court.
“There are over 150 missing paintings. We don’t know where they are located, paintings of all the masters: Rembrandts, Van Goghs, Picassos. We have a list… (but) we think there are paintings that are not on list,” he said.
He also said a huge collection of jewelry, seized from the Marcos family after their downfall, would be put on display although the items might eventually be auctioned off.
“It (the display) will teach people that crime does not pay. It will be a statement against excesses committed in the past. There is also the potential tourist draw,” he said.
Although the Marcos family fled into exile after Ferdinand Marcos was toppled, they have since returned to the Philippines and made a political comeback with Imelda being elected to congress, her son, Ferdinand Junior to the Senate and a daughter as governor of the Marcos’ home province in the north.