Claims Over Marcos Family Treasures Head to NY Trial

Seized by New York prosecutors in 2011, the 1881 Claude Monet painting “L’Eglise et la Seine a Vetheuil” is among the assets tied to Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

MANHATTAN (CN) – In a trial more than three decades in the making, New York prosecutors will lead victims of Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos who are fighting to collect artwork by modern masters and $15 million in cash seized from Marcos and his wife, Imelda.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla set the stage for the next act Thursday, rejecting motions by various parties that wanted to collect the money and paintings by Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley without a trial.

“A full recitation of the history of the disputes between Mr. and Mrs. Marcos, on one side, and the claimants, on the other, would fill volumes,” the hefty, 93-page ruling states.

After the Marcos family’s overthrow in 1986, successor Corazon Aquino established a Presidential Commission on Good Government in charge of compensating victims of the autocrat’s mass arrests, detentions and torture of political adversaries.

President Ronald Reagan with Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos and first lady Imelda Marcos during a state visit outside the Oval Office. (Reagan Presidential Library)

The commission traced the Marcos family’s assets across the Philippines, Hawaii and New York City, amassing a more than 8 million-page dossier and setting up a Manhattan office. That bureau peered into two properties here linked to Imelda Marcos: a townhouse on 13-15 East 66th Street and an apartment in the Olympic Tower at 641 Fifth Avenue.

Opening up a separate investigation, Manhattan prosecutors charged that the Marcos family removed artwork from these properties that they had purchased using public funds siphoned from their government.

The New York District Attorney’s Office criminally prosecuted Imelda Marcos’ personal secretary Vilma Bautista, seizing dozens of her paintings and millions of dollars held in bank account in her name in 2011.

Since that time, competing interests have stepped forward as claimants.

Seized by New York prosecutors in 2011, the 1887 painting “Langland Bay” by Alfred Sisley is among the assets tied to Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Manhattan prosecutors seek forfeiture to restore the property to a class of Marcos regime victims they represent.

The Filipino government meanwhile believes that it is the rightful owner, as does Bautista, the prosecuted secretary of Imelda Marcos.

Adding another wrinkle in the complicated tapestry is the estate of Roger Roxas, another Marcos victim who won a lawsuit in Hawaii seeking a Buddha statue made of 1 metric ton of gold and discovered in underground tunnels in Baguio City in the Philippines.

Declining to settle these dueling claims at summary judgment, Judge Polk Failla said that she would schedule a trial at a hearing on May 3.

The embassy of the Philippines, a majority Roman Catholic country, was closed for Good Friday.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined to comment.

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