Vilma Bautista, the former secretary to one-time Philippines legislator and former first lady Imelda Marcos, faces up to 25 years in prison for selling a Monet Water Lillies painting that once adorned an Upper West Side townhouse Marcos used. Bautista had kept the Monet and several other works hidden for nearly three decades, then started quietly trying to sell them in 2009. She managed to arrange the sale of Monet’s Le Bassin aux Nymphéas for $43 million, $28 million of which a British gallery deposited in Bautista’s account in 2010. That same year, Bautista paid $80 in taxes, which is what eventually led prosecutors to the “white-collar cold case,” as District Attorney Cyrus Vance called it.
“That deal had gone forward even though the only evidence Ms. Bautista possessed that she was authorized to sell the painting was a single-page document from 1991, purportedly signed by Mrs. Marcos,” The New York Times reported. Bautista worked with her two nephews to sell the painting in a deal that, according to the Times, ”transferred one of the Monets — the majestic ‘Le Bassin aux Nymphéas’ — from Ms. Bautista to a Panamanian company, then to a London gallery and finally to Alan Howard, a hedge fund manager in Switzerland.” As prosecutor Ted Starishevsky put it, “Everyone held their noses and closed their eyes because it was in their shared financial interest to do so.”