A ‘missing’ painting by Pablo Picasso may have been spotted in the home of a notoriously corrupt Filipino political family as they celebrated their return to power following this week’s elections.
Eagle-eyed viewers say the painting – Reclining Woman IV – was hanging in the living room of Imelda Marcos, the Philippines’ former First Lady, as she congratulated son Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos on being elected president on Wednesday.
The painting is believed to be one of hundreds of artworks bought by the Marcoses using billions plundered by family patriarch Ferdinand Sr, who ruled the country as president starting in 1965 but ending in brutal dictatorship that lasted until 1986.
Andy Bautista, the former chief of a commission set up to find the Marcos’s stolen wealth, seemed convinced the artwork was genuine when he posted an image on Twitter Thursday.
He was joined in his enthusiasm by Lauren Greenfield – a director whose 2019 film Kingmaker about the Marcos family’s attempt to re-take power featured the painting – who quipped ‘Picasso’s back!’
But others raised doubts about the authenticity, suggesting the family could have had a replica made – perhaps in an attempt to troll authorities hunting for it.
A ‘missing’ Picasso painting worth an estimated £125million has been spotted hanging in the home of Imelda Marco, mother of new Philippines President Ferdinand Jr
Imelda is known to have owned the painting, which was bought with wealth plundered from the Philippines during her husband’s dictatorship
The fact that the family once owned the original is not disputed: Imelda has been pictured with the artwork once before and it also featured in the documentary.
But when the PCGG – a government agency specifically set up to recover the billions her family plundered from the country – raided Imelda’s four homes and office in 2014 looking for the painting, it was missing.
Also believed to have been spirited away into the family vaults are works by the likes of Michelangelo, Goya, Monet, Braques, Pissarro and Manet.
Imelda and her family have spent decades in political exile after being forced to flee the Philippines for Hawaii when a revolution toppled her husband’s regime.
But Monday’s election – which marks the tail end of a years-long campaign led by Imelda to rehabilitate the family name – saw her son, ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, elected on a joint ticket with Sara Duterte, daughter of current president Rodrigo.
Footage of the family celebrating inside Imelda’s apartment was released by his PR team this week, prompting viewers to claim they had spied the Picasso on her wall.
Following the sighting, Bautista told Philippines public TV: ‘This painting is worth about eight billion pesos (£125m).
‘Now of course, we don’t know about the quality of this painting, but Pablo Picasso is a master of painting, and this is a very valuable piece.’
‘I hope the new PCGG officials can look into this, and the Office of the Solicitor-General. Please seize it while there is still time.’
Footage from inside the apartment released on Wednesday as Imelda celebrated her son’s election win appeared to show the paining back on the wall
Imelda was last pictured with the artwork in documentary Kingmaker, but when police trying to seize the family’s ill-gotten gains raided the building it was gone
But such a move is highly unlikely. The PCGG is a government agency, and as such the new president can shutter it – or gut it of funding and staff so that it becomes highly ineffective.
Even before Marcos’s election win, the agency had recovered just a fraction of the wealth Ferdinand Sr is thought to have stolen – hidden away in a labyrinth of shell companies and offshore trusts.
A gifted lawyer and veteran of the Second World War, Ferdinand Sr worked as a prosecutor trying Japanese war criminals after the Imperial Japan’s surrender.
Eventually he went into politics, running for his father’s old seat and serving three consecutive terms in the House of Representatives.
Marcos then began his march up the political ladder, leading house committees and becoming spokesman for his party on economic matters.
He won election to the Senate in 1959 and served as Minority Leader before becoming Senate President in 1963 when the Liberal Party – which he was leading by this time – took overall control.
In 1965 he ran for and won the race for the Presidency, largely based upon now-debunked claims to be the Philippines most-decorated war veteran.
Initially popular, he oversaw a huge increase in public spending largely financed by foreign debt that led to spiralling inflation in his later terms.
As his popularity fell, Marcos became increasingly authoritarian.
In 1972 he placed the country under martial law based on a fraudulent referendum result and used the emergency powers it granted him to revise the constitution, and silence the media.
He also waged a campaign of violence and fear against opponents – both perceived and real – with Amnesty International estimating that at least 3,240 were killed, 34,000 were tortured, and 70,000 were jailed during his rule.
It was during the martial law period that Marcos is believed to have started plundering from the Philippines Central Bank, squirrelling away his wealth in a network of offshore accounts and trusts.
As told by The Guardian, he was one of the first to use this system on such a large scale and helped create the shadowy network of offshore finance where billions in ill-gotten gains is thought to be hidden to this day.
Deposed by a popular revolution in 1986, he fled to Hawaii where US customs recorded him arriving in two military transport planes loaded with 23 wooden crates, 12 suitcases and bags, and various boxes.
Inside were diamonds, ivory statues, $15million in freshly-printed notes, and 24 solid gold bricks inscribed with the words ‘to my husband on our 24th anniversary’.
But these treasures were dwarfed by the loot left behind in the Presidential Palace, which were discovered when revolutionaries stormed it.
Inside they found oil portraits of the family – including a portrait of the young Bongbong riding a stallion, a gold crown on his head, clutching a Philippines flag.
Also included was a gold-plated Jacuzzi, 15 mink coats, 508 couture gowns, and a designer shoe collection of more than 3,000 pairs belonging to Imelda.
According to the PCGG, the total plundered by the Marcos family was $10billion – only a fraction of which has ever been recovered.
Bongbong – a veteran of elite schools in the UK and US – sailed to victory in Monday’s election as a champion of the poor.
He has defended his father’s legacy and steadfastly refuses to apologize for or acknowledge the atrocities and plunder during the dictatorship.
Married to a lawyer, with whom he has three sons, he has stayed away from controversies, including a past tax conviction and the Marcos family’s refusal to pay a huge estate tax.
Throughout his campaign, he tenaciously stuck to a battle cry of national unity.
He denies accusations that he financed a years-long social media campaign that harnessed online trolls to smear opponents and whitewash the Marcos family’s checkered history, daring critics to ‘show me one.’