Jury Finds Vilma Bautista Guilty of Selling Monet “Water-Lily” Painting for Tens of Millions of Dollars, Failing to Report Sale on Tax Return
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance today announced the trial conviction of VILMA BAUTISTA, 75, for illegally conspiring to possess and sell valuable works of art acquired by former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos during her husband’s presidency, keeping the proceeds for herself, and hiding those proceeds from New York State tax authorities and others. The art included a Claude Monet “Water-Lily” painting, which the defendant sold in September 2010 for $32 million. A jury in New York State Supreme Court found the defendant guilty of all of the counts of the indictment against her: Criminal Tax Fraud in the First Degree, Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree. BAUTISTA is expected to be sentenced at a later date.
“More than 25 years after these masterwork paintings were looted, it took a jury two-and-a-half hours to come back with a guilty verdict against the woman who conspired to steal them,” said District Attorney Vance. “Vilma Bautista was found guilty of attempting to sell art she had possessed secretly for decades and knew to be stolen, and for selling a looted museum-quality painting for her personal enrichment. I want thank the jury and our prosecutors for their work in this case, which finally solves the mystery of what happened to four masterpieces of Impressionist art.”
As proven at trial, BAUTISTA was employed by the Philippine government as a Foreign Service Officer assigned to the Philippine Mission to the United Nations in New York from the early 1970s through approximately 1986. During that period and for years after, BAUTISTA unofficially acted as the New York-based personal secretary of Imelda Marcos, whose husband, Ferdinand Marcos, now deceased, served as President of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. During her husband’s presidency, Imelda Marcos used state assets to acquire a vast collection of artwork and other valuables. Much of the art adorned official Philippine government property in the Philippines and Manhattan. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos fled the Philippines in February 1986 following a popular revolt.
In the period of time immediately before and after the fall of the Marcos regime, a significant amount of artwork and other valuables disappeared from Philippine government property, including from the Philippine Consulate townhouse in Manhattan. Since then, the Philippine government has engaged in a public campaign to recover missing and stolen property acquired by the Marcoses. BAUTISTA was found to be aware of and monitoring this campaign, even as she possessed some of the valuable works of art.
In or after February 1986, BAUTISTA came into possession of numerous works of art acquired by the Marcoses during Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency, including the following paintings:
Claude Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nymphease” (also known as “Japanese Footbridge Over the Water-Lily Pond at Giverny”), 1899, (the “Water-Lily”)
Claude Monet’s “L’Eglise et La Seine a Vetheuil” (also known as “L’Eglise a Vetheuil”), 1881, (the “Vetheuil”)
Alfred Sisley’s “Langland Bay,” 1887
Albert Marquet’s “Le Cypres de Djenan Sidi Said” (also known as “Algerian View”), 1946
Each of the four paintings disappeared in 1986 around the time the Marcoses fell from power, and each ended up in BAUTISTA’s possession. Beginning in 2009, BAUTISTA attempted to sell the paintings covertly, focusing on the most valuable painting, Claude Monet’s “Water-Lily.” Using a variety of illicit means to achieve its sale, including the use of false documents to establish BAUTISTA’s purported legal authority to sell the painting and receive the proceeds, the defendant successfully sold the “Water-Lily” painting in September 2010 to a London gallery for $32 million.
Several months later, in March and April 2011, BAUTISTA filed New York State tax returns for 2010, in which she 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 tax revenue.
Assistant District Attorneys Edward Starishevsky and Garrett Lynch prosecuted this case under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy, Principal Deputy Bureau Chief of the Major Economic Crimes Bureau, Assistant District Attorney Polly Greenberg, Chief of the Major Economic Crimes Bureau, and Executive Assistant District Attorney David Szuchman, Chief of the Investigation Division. Assistant District Attorney Duncan Levin, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Unit, also worked on the investigation. Investigative Analysts Jack Hoskins, Bonita Robinson and Kyle Rodrigues assisted with the case, as did Investigators Gregory Dunlavey, Donato Siciliano, and Jonathan Reid of the District Attorney’s Investigations Bureau, under the supervision of Chief Investigator Walter Alexander and Deputy Chief Investigator Michael Wigdor.
District Attorney Vance thanked the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance for its contribution to the investigation, and thanked the auction house and fine art storage firm Christie’s for its valuable assistance.
VILMA BAUTISTA, D.O.B. 8/29/1938
New York, N.Y.
Criminal Tax Fraud in the First Degree, a class B felony, 1 count
Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony, 1 count
Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, a class E felony, 1 count