By Karen Freifeld
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The former secretary to Imelda Marcos was indicted Tuesday in New York on charges of conspiring to sell artwork that the former Philippine first lady acquired during her husband's presidency, including a Claude Monet water-lily painting.
The paintings, which the Philippine government claims it owns, disappeared around the time Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos was forced from power a quarter century ago.
The ex-aide, Vilma Bautista, 74, a New York resident, was charged on Tuesday with conspiracy and other crimes. She pleaded not guilty in Manhattan state court and was released on $175,000 bond.
"Unfortunately, our client is in the middle of a dispute between the Philippine government and the Marcos family that has been going on for years," attorney Fran Hoffinger said after the arraignment. "This is a civil dispute. It does not belong in criminal court."
Bautista is accused of secretly keeping and, with the help of two nephews, selling "Le Bassin aux Nympheas," one of Monet's "Water Lilies" series, to a London gallery in 2010 for $32 million, according to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. The nephews also were charged in the case.
Other paintings Bautista is accused of secretly keeping are Monet's "L'Eglise et La Seine a Vetheuil," Alfred Sisley's "Langland Bay," and Albert Marquet's "Le Cypres de Djenan Sidi Said."
Imelda Marcos, known for her extravagant lifestyle and thousands of shoes, is not expected to face charges in the case, prosecutors said. Ferdinand Marcos died in 1989.
The Philippine government filed corruption charges against the strongman and his wife in 1987, seeking tens of billions of dollars in damages for plundering the nation's wealth, including illegal expensive works of art, clothes and jewelry.
(This story has corrected spelling of Philippine in paragraphs one and two; spelling of painting title in paragraph five)
(Reporting By Karen Freifeld; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Cynthia Osterman)