The Presidential Commission on Good Government has reached a deal with a British billionaire who bought a Monet painting that was once owned by former First Lady Imelda Marcos to drop a lawsuit still in litigation in New York in exchange for a $30-million (P1.579-billion) payment, ABS-CBN News reported Friday.
An ABS-CBN source in New York privy to the initial talks between the PCGG and billionaire Alan Howard said the payment is part of what could be a compromise agreement to settle government claims to the painting.
The “Le Bassin aux Nympheas” (Water Lily Pond) by French painter Claude Monet was one of the hundreds of artworks formerly owned by the widow of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos and allegedly amassed over their two-decade dictatorship.
The Duterte administration endorsed the plan for a compromise agreement in a memorandum dated Jan. 8, 2019. Signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the memo authorized acting PCGG chief Reynold Munsayac to close the proposed agreement.
Howard bought the Le Bassin painting for $43 million (P2.26 billion) at Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox Gallery in London in 2010, unaware that the painting was still the subject of litigation in New York involving the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.
“The Office of the President interposes no objection to the PCGG entering into a settlement agreement” involving Howard “for as long as it is not disadvantageous to the government,” Medialdea said.
ABS-CBN News said it has not gotten any word if Howard agreed to the proposal or made a counter-offer. The Standard could not reach Mrs. Marcos for comment at press time.
But the Briton’s counsel has reportedly begun reaching out to New York court executives and American human rights lawyer Robert Swift, counsel of Marcos’ martial law victims for the proposed agreement, according to the network’s source.
Philippine officials confirmed to ABS-CBN News they were pursuing a settlement with Howard.
The ABS-CBN source said a compromise agreement was nearing completion, short of saying that Howard had agreed to the plan, boosting hopes of collecting $30 million from the billionaire.
“There is already an agreement in final form,” the ABS-CBN source said. “Otherwise, the Office of the [Philippine] President would not have approved.”
In a 2013 story in the New York Times, Howard invoked protection under US and British laws to free him from any lawsuit as buyer of the Le Bassin in good faith, but he was also willing to enter into an out-of-court agreement to settle it once and for all.When he first spotted Le Bassin at Hazlitt, Howard was assured by the Gooden & Fox Gallery in London that its title was clean, according to the Times report in November 2013.
“Mr. Howard bought the painting in good faith from a reputable gallery and received expert legal advice on the purchase,” the Times reported, quoting Howard’s spokesman Anthony Payne.
Howard wants to keep the painting, the ABS-CBN source said.
Munsayac told ABS-CBN News late Wednesday night that the compromise agreement will have to be approved by the Department of Justice and the Office of the Solicitor General.
“This is to ensure that any agreement will be for the best interest of the State,” he said in an email.
He said the DOJ was already organizing a meeting between all the government agencies concerned to discuss the proposed settlement and to determine whether the terms will be acceptable to both OSG and DOJ.
“We are continuing efforts to recover other artworks and there is, in fact, another case pending before New York involving some paintings,” he said.
That meeting was set for two days beginning Jan. 23, according to Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Villar in an interview with ABS-CBN News Wednesday afternoon.
But the meeting had to be reset to a later date, Villar said because the OSG was not available for the meeting.
“And I am still waiting for some other important matters [on the PCGG’s proposed settlement]. It is premature at this time to talk about a compromise agreement because there is still none,” she said.
Villar said the meeting among DOJ, OSG and PCGG officials was to ensure that the terms of the settlement “shall not be prejudicial to the pending cases and existing claims of the Philippines against the Marcoses and their ill-gotten wealth.”