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Philippine website to seek tips on missing Marcos art

Teresa Cerojano
Associated Press

Manila, Philippines — The Philippine government will launch a website to crowd-source tips on the whereabouts of some 200 missing art works, including paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso, and Rembrandt that were owned by former first lady Imelda Marcos, an official said Friday.

The family of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos allegedly amassed billions of dollars’ worth of ill-gotten wealth. His widow, now 86 and a member of Congress, became notorious for excesses, symbolized by her huge shoe collection and staggering jewelry collection.

Experts from Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses are concluding Friday a week-long appraisal of jewelry seized after the family fled to Hawaii in 1986, following a popular revolt that ended Marcos’ two-decade rule.

Andrew de Castro, a member of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which is tasked with recovering the ill-gotten wealth, said that the agency would launch a website in a week or two to seek public assistance in locating at least 200 paintings.

A former head of the agency, Andres Bautista, last year said that the missing paintings include works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Picasso and Michelangelo. He said the list was compiled from various documents after the Marcoses fled, and had been registered with the Art Loss Register, the world’s largest private database of lost and stolen art.

Among the paintings not on the list is one by Claude Monet that was sold for $32 million in 2010 by former Marcos aide Vilma Bautista. She was sentenced last year by a New York court to up to six years’ imprisonment for conspiring to sell the art work and tax fraud.

De Castro said Friday that litigation was ongoing on the Philippine government’s lawsuit in New York to recover the proceeds from the sale and three other art works she attempted to sell.

Journalists were again allowed Friday to view and take pictures of the jewelry being appraised, including a rare, barrel-shaped pink Indian diamond that a Christie’s representative said was worth at least $5 million.

Other jewelry included complete sets of diamond encrusted rubies with a brooch whose single ruby stone is bigger than a dollar coin. A Sotheby’s representative said they appear to be Burmese rubies. There were also diamond-studded tiaras, including a Cartier tiara with paisley-shaped design.

The jewelry collection, comprising three sets seized in various locations, was valued at $5 million to $7 million when it was last appraised in 1988 and 1991. But it is likely to have significantly risen in value, De Castro said.

The jewels have been stored for nearly three decades in the central bank’s vault in Manila.