Row over Marcos Old Masters

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The Independent Online
A US COURT ruling is expected within the next few days on six Old Master paintings which the Philippines government claims were stolen before the late Ferdinand Marcos was deposed as president in 1986, and fled the country with his wife Imelda.

Sotheby's in New York is being sued by Sandra Garcia, a friend of Mrs Marcos, over the ownership of paintings that include Pieter Breughel the Younger, Dirk Hals, Jan Steen and William Hogarth.

Mrs Marcos, whose lavish life- style and shopping sprees are legendary, spent millions on Old Master pictures. She faces various criminal and civil suits in the Philippines for allegedly enriching herself during the rule of her late husband, Ferdinand Marcos.

A spokesman for Sotheby's said that Mrs Garcia attempted to consign the paintings to the auctioneer earlier this year. He added that Mrs Garcia claims she was given the paintings by Mrs Marcos to secure a dollars 1m ( pounds 606,060) loan. According to one source: 'Mrs Marcos is beginning to bring works of art onto the market as she needs the money.'

When George Wachter, the auction house's Old Masters expert, was shown the pictures, he recalled having seen them in a list of stolen works of art some six years earlier. They had been published by the International Foundation for Art Research, in a list compiled by the post-Marcos government in 1986.

Jeffrey Greenbaum, the New York lawyer whose firm is representing the Philippines government in its efforts to recover millions of pounds worth of property and art, said: 'We believe the works rightfully belong to the Philippines. They were either stolen or purchased with stolen funds.'

He said that a motion was pending as to whether the case went ahead in Virginia or New York. Sotheby's, which still has the paintings, has asked the court to declare ownership.

Mr Greenbaum said that the paintings were a fraction of the works on the original 'wanted' list. When the Marcos regime fell, the Commission on Good Government, established by President Cory Aquino to recover assets, detailed some 155 missing paintings.

It is believed that some paintings and sculptures that Mrs Marcos acquired were not bought in her own name. Invoices were said to have been sent to businesses run by close friends; payment came in the form of anonymous cashiers' cheques drawn on one of the Marcos's overseas accounts.

Mr Greenbaum is also handling a second, separate action involving four Impressionist paintings, worth between dollars 4m and dollars 5m ( pounds 3m), and a New York dealer.

Christie's confirmed yesterday that it was negotiating the sale of Mrs Marcos's jewels which, according to one source, could be worth some dollars 20m ( pounds 12m).