Professor Franklin Siegel, who litigated to recover assets Ferdinand Marcos stole from the Philippine people, observed that New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s trial team and won a notable victory with the conviction last week of Vilma Bautista, the longtime personal confidante and personal secretary to former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos.
“District Attorney Vance’s team deserves immense credit for recovering tens of millions of dollars stolen from the Philippine people,” Siegel commented. “It reminds dictators and their associates that in New York, the heat will never be off if they have betrayed the public trust.” A jury convicted Bautista on conspiracy and tax fraud charges stemming from the sale of paintings which disappeared in the 1980s when Ferdinand Marcos was ousted as president of the Philippines in the 1986 “People Power” revolution. Bautista’s conviction involved the reappearance of four art masterpieces, two by Monet including one from the famous water lily series, taken from a Philippine government townhouse on Manhattan’s East Side where Mrs. Marcos stayed when she and threw lavish parties when she was the Philippine first lady. The jury found Bautista and her two nephews plotted to sell the four paintings on the black market.
In 1986 Siegel was part of the “Marcos Assets Recovery” civil litigation against former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda and a range of their associates including Vilma Bautista. President Marcos and his wife had amassed vast wealth through corruption of the president’s office. Siegel was co-lead counsel of a Center for Constitutional Rights team, which obtained a precedent-setting injunction in behalf of the Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG). PCGG’s mission was to recover money stolen by President Marcos and his confederates, including Ms. Bautista, and apply the proceeds to the Philippine land reform program.
The New York Civil Case established that U.S. courts may freeze assets found in the U.S. which foreign government officials obtained through corruption, pending a foreign court’s determination of rightful ownership. Mrs. Bautista was a co-defendant in the case, which involved luxury residences and Manhattan office buildings. The temporary restraining order in the case led the Swiss government to break bank-secrecy for the first time to freeze Marcos assets in secret accounts.
Prof. Siegel is a distinguished lecturer at CUNY School of Law, where his courses include electives on the constitutional law of foreign relations and civil rights remedies for government misconduct.