A British billionaire who paid $43 million for what investigators say turned out to be a stolen Monet has shelled out even more dough to avoid being dragged — with the painting — into a Manhattan courtroom, according to a new report.
UK hedge fund manager Alan Howard bought the artwork — “Japanese Footbridge Over the Water-Lily Pond” — in “good faith” in 2010, but it soon wound up at the center of the ongoing Manhattan criminal court conspiracy and tax fraud trial of former Imelda Marcos aide Vilma Bautista.
The low-profile Howard, whose worth is estimated at $2 billion, has now paid another $10 million to a class action group in exchange for a legal release on any claims over the painting, according to the web site thesmokinggun.com.
He also struck a confidentiality deal barring the group from disclosing his name or taking action against the London art house that brokered the sale of the allegedly hot work of the Impressionist master, according to the site, which reported that Howard plans legal action against the dealer.
Bautista, 74, has been accused by Manhattan prosecutors of stealing the 1899 painting from former Philippines First Lady Marcos. She and two nephews were charged with conspiracy after they tried to sell the painting, and several others kept in Marcos’ New York townhouse, after Marcos’ assets were frozen by the new Philippine government.
The famously free-spending Marcos and her husband Ferdinand were forced into exile in 1986, and prosecutors said Bautista kept the Monet hidden for more than two decades before fencing it. The artwork, believed to be the most valuable in the Marcos collection, did not show up on a list of items reported missing and suspected of being paid for with Philippine government funds.
Court records and testimony show that Howard bought the painting through dealer Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox. A spokesman said the deal was done in “good faith,” according to the Smoking Gun report.
Bautista pocketed more than $21 million in the $43 million transaction.
He knew the painting once belonged to Marcos and that Bautista was selling it – but he didn’t know that the aide had previously tried to unload the piece. That $35 million deal fell apart when the prospective buyer raised questions about Bautista’s authority to sell it.
Howard’s camp also questioned the painting’s provenance, and received a “letter of explanation” signed by Bautista that addressed the concerns.
The class action group paid by Howard in return for not dragging him into the case – comprised of about 10,000 people who claim they were victims of human rights abuse under the Marcos regime – had already won judgments against the Marcos estate and also has sued Bautista to recover the money she got from selling the Monet.