Imelda Marcos calls in her lawyers over $10m fire sale of confiscated jewellery

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President Gloria Arroyo's cash-strapped regime hopes to fund a land-reform programme from the proceeds, but Mrs Marcos, who faces criminal charges related to the dictatorial presidency of her late husband Ferdinand, vowed yesterday to take legal action to stop the auction.

"I am confident my efforts will be successful to stop the sale and recover my jewels," she told Reuters. "The government has not shown any proof the funds used to purchase them were ill-gotten."

The collection of necklaces, bracelets and tiaras, which were seized when the former president and his wife were forced to flee their palace by a popular revolt, is expected to fetch at least $10m (£5.5m).

Experts from international auction houses have been invited to value three sets from the collection, thought to include a Persian-style necklace decorated with more than 100 carats of canary and pink diamonds, and a diamond-studded bracelet with a 31-carat stone at its centre.

Mrs Marcos, whose penchant for flamboyant frivolity during her husband's 20-year-long presidency contrasted sharply with the desperate poverty in which the majority of her citizens lived, insists the items are family heirlooms and should be kept under lock and key. She is, she said yesterday, "praying" for their return.

Previous attempts by the government to put the jewels under the hammer have ended in failure, primarily because a location for the sale could never be decided upon. Officials are adamant that this time the auction will go ahead.

President Marcos and his wife were accused of illegitimately amassing billions of dollars during their time in power. The government says it is now determined to hunt down the money and return it to the public.

Rick Abcede, a member of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, the agency responsible for tracking down the lost millions, said yesterday: "I'm confident that Mrs Marcos would not pursue the plan suggested by her lawyers to prevent the sale of the jewellery.

"Mrs Marcos does not need this jewellery. She has enough expensive collections and art objects. The ultimate beneficiaries of the sale of those jewels are the poor among us, since the proceeds will go to land reform."

The former first lady was found guilty on corruption charges in the mid-1990s and sentenced to a minimum of 12 years in prison, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.

She has always denied the charges brought against her. Her husband died in Honolulu in 1989 without ever admitting any wrongdoing while in office.

The three main sets of jewellery were confiscated at the presidential palace, Manila international airport and by customs officers in Hawaii as the Marcos family fled their country for the United States in 1986. They are due to be inspected by representatives from Christie's and Sotheby's on Thursday.

If the auction goes ahead, it is expected to take place, possibly in Switzerland, this November or next May, both peak times for the jewellery business. The government has said it does not intend to prevent Mrs Marcos from trying to buy back her jewels on the open market.