One of the reasons we announced The Art Compliance Company yesterday is that works of art have become so very valuable but many of them still lack the documentation of other multi-million-dollar assets. Here is an extreme example that is now coming to trial. Ms. Bautista would not be facing the legal jeopardy and fees had the gallery spent a small fraction of the transaction price creating a detailed account of the work’s ownership:
When the former personal secretary to Imelda Marcos contacted a London gallery three years ago about selling a Monet masterpiece that Mrs. Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, had bought in the 1970s, the gallery was understandably leery.
The ex-secretary, Vilma Bautista, possessed only one thing to prove she was authorized to sell the painting: a single-page document from 1991 naming her as Mrs. Marcos’s agent.
That document will be a key piece of evidence in Ms. Bautista’s conspiracy trial, which began in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Wednesday. […]
Ms. Bautista’s lawyer, Susan Hoffinger, argued that her client had been thrust into a political struggle between the Marcos family and the family of President Benigno Aquino in the Philippines. No court in the Philippines has ruled on whether the paintings belong to the state or to Mrs. Marcos, she said.
“Vilma Bautista has been made a scapegoat in this political struggle, criminally charged with her future put at stake,” she said. Ms. Hoffinger also asserted that the 1991 document giving Ms. Bautista the right to sell the painting — known as a certificate of authority — was still valid. The prosecution had said it would be proved fraudulent.
“That’s just speculation,” Ms. Hoffinger said. “The prosecution didn’t tell you in his opening that they will bring Imelda Marcos in to testify here. They will not. They aren’t bringing her. Without that testimony from Mrs. Marcos, there will be no evidence that that certificate of authority isn’t valid.”
Trial Opens for Imelda Marcos’s Ex-Aide (NYTimes)