Ex-Marcos aide sentenced over sale of Monet painting

WASHINGTON - A US judge sentenced a former personal secretary to Imelda Marcos Monday to two to six years in prison for conspiring to sell Impressionist masterpieces belonging to the Manila government that vanished when Ferdinand Marcos was ousted.

But Justice Renee A. White of the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan said Vilma Bautista, 75, who has a pacemaker and chronic heart disease, could remain free on US$175,000 bail while her lawyers appeal, the New York Times reported.

White also ordered Bautista to pay US$3.5 million in income taxes she owes to New York City and to New York State.

He said she failed to report US$28 million she obtained from selling one of the paintings, a famous Claude Monet water lily work, to a London gallery, which then resold it to a hedge fund manager in Switzerland.

Bautista's lawyer, Fran Hoffinger, said the court should impose no jail sentence because of her frail health.

Hoffinger pointed out that paramedics had wheeled Ms. Bautista out of the courtroom on a gurney twice during her five-week trial after heart palpitations and fainting spells.

"Incarceration for her would be a death sentence, or at least a life sentence," Hoffinger said, according to the Times.

It took a jury less than three hours to convict Bautista in November of conspiracy and tax fraud in connection with the sale of the Monet piece, "Le Bassin aux Nympheas" (1899).

The painting had been taken along with three other works in late 1995 from the walls of a New York townhouse owned by the Philippine government.

Bautista maintained she had Mrs. Marcos's written permission to sell the works, which were found in Bautista's apartment in Manhattan. The Philippine government is seeking to recover them.