14 January 2014

Hot Art

Amid thoughts of restitution and the Australian Proceeds of Crime regime, the 'truthiness' of people such as Mortenson and controversy over The Wolf of Wall Street (Belfort claims that he has been libelled by the Wall Street Journal) it is interesting to see the sentence on Vilma Bautista in New York.

The former personal secretary to Imelda Marcos was sentenced yesterday to two to six years in state prison for conspiring to sell Impressionist paintings belonging to the Philippine government.

The canvases, formerly held in the Marcos apartment in Manhattan, disappeared when Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown as president in 1986. They included Monet's 1881 L’Eglise at la Siene a Veuthevil, Marquet’s 1946 Le Cyprès de Djenan Sidi Saïd and Sisley’s 1887 Langland Bay.

David Chaikin's 2000 'Tracking The Proceeds of Organised Crime: The Marcos Case' [PDF] notes suggestions that Marcos and associates snaffled upwards of US$5bn. In one settlement in 1991 civil actions by the US regarding ownership of "certain currency, securities, gems, antiques and other property" ended with the Philippine Government agreeing to dismiss US civil claims against the Marcos family in return for those kleptocrats agreeing to transfer certain assets to the Philippines.

Bautista was also ordered to pay US$3.5m in state/city taxes, attributable to the 2010 sale of Monet's 1899 Le Bassin aux Nymphéas for US$43m.

The sale of that work was apparently uninhibited by the inability of Bautista to prove title apart from a single-page document purportedly signed by Mrs. Marcos in 1991 and witnessed by a notary who wasn't present when Marcos supposedly put her paw marks on the paper.

Last year the New York Times commented that
Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, likened the conviction to a “white-collar cold case” that came to light only because prosecutors had analyzed Ms. Bautista’s finances and tax returns. He said the case also highlighted the darker side of the art market. “We have solved the mystery of a painting that has been missing for decades,” he said. 
Ms. Bautista’s lawyers, Susan and Fran Hoffinger, had argued to the jury that their client was authorized to act as Mrs. Marcos’s agent and had intended to send some of the proceeds to her, but could not because the district attorney’s office had seized the money. 
Prosecutors never accused Ms. Bautista of stealing, but they presented evidence that she had hidden the paintings at her apartment on East 64th Street. Beginning in July 2009, as she was running short of money, she enlisted her nephews to find a private collector willing to buy the work. 
The jury was shown more than a dozen emails sent between Ms. Bautista’s nephews outlining their plans to sell the paintings on her behalf. The two men expressed worries about being caught and going to jail. … 
In April 2011, she failed to report the $28 million windfall on her state tax return and paid about $80 in taxes.