Shoes, Jewels, and Monets: The Immense Ill-Gotten Wealth of Imelda Marcos

During their two-decade conjugal dictatorship, as it came to be known, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos pillaged up to $10 billion from Philippine coffers to finance their extravagant lifestyle. Nearly 20 years after their downfall, and in spite of an extensive recovery effort, most of that wealth is still missing. 

Ferdinand's three terms as president, from 1965 to 1986, were marked by rampant corruption, political repression and human rights abuses. Imelda spent her tenure as first lady buying shoes, rare artwork, multimillion-dollar properties and, of course, lots and lots of jewels.

So it made for a small-but-sweet victory when an anti-graft court this week ordered the former first lady to turn over more than $100,000 worth of jewelry on the grounds that it was ill-gotten. The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which is charged with recovering the Marcoses' stolen loot and providing restitution to thousands of victims of their brutal reign, has confiscated two other jewelry collections worth about $8.4 million, and hopes to exhibit them as part of a very belated shaming exercise.

Millions of dollars worth of jewels is a substantial windfall but it pales in comparison to some of the other assets recovered by the PCGG (and, obviously, it's a just a drop in the bucket compared to what's still out there). Here's a rundown of some of the reclaimed loot:

Shoes, Clothes and Jewels

When Imelda fled Malacanang Palace with her husband in 1986, she left behind a personal safe filled with "freshwater pearls, a grocery-size carton of beaded turquoise necklaces, miniature standing trees carved out of semiprecious stones, hundreds of pieces of gold jewelry, and a reported $50,000 worth of gold coins," as well as thousands of designer shoes, hundreds of designer dresses and five shelves of designer purses. The jewelry collection now in custody consists of 60 pieces, including a 150-karat Burmese Ruby, and a 30-karat Bulgari diamond bracelet that was valued at $1 million in 1986. (Imelda has joked that the Philippine government has left her with nothing but "junk," which she refers to as "The Imelda Collection: Guaranteed to tarnish and disintegrate.")

Precious Art

The PCGG has a list of more than 100 missing paintings believed to have been purchased by the Marcoses with dirty money. This past year, one of those paintings -- Monet's "Le Bassin aux Nymphéas" -- turned up at an auction in New York where it sold for $43 million. Authorities traced the painting back to a former secretary of Imelda's who was also in possession of -- and trying to sell -- three other impressionist masterpieces that had formerly belonged to the first lady. In November, the secretary was convicted of conspiracy and tax fraud.

Major Real Estate

The PCGG has seized $350 million worth of real estate in New York, including a Wall Street skyscraper (which sold for almost nothing), the Crown Building, a nine-story Manhattan shopping mall, a Fifth Avenue tower, and a 13-acre estate on Long Island. The Marcoses also had several properties in Beverly Hills and two homes in Princeton Pike and Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Their Philippine vacation home recently sold for $2 million, as well.

Tons of Cash

In 2003, a Philippine court ordered the forfeiture of $683 million held in Swiss bank accounts in Ferdinand Marcos's name. Switzerland turned over the money in 2004. In a vault held by Marcos, the Swiss central bank also found a ruby and diamond tiara worth about $8 million.  

According to a World Bank report, the Marcoses managed to accumulate their wealth through a number of channels: by using their political power to take over large private companies, creating state-owned monopolies, skimming off international aid, and directly raiding the public treasury. They then laundered their ill-gotten gains through shell corporations, eventually investing it in real estate and depositing it into offshore accounts. 

When the family finally fled the palace during the 1986 popular uprising, they carried as much of their wealth as they could on their persons: 89 family members and servants carried $10,000 in cash each. Their jet held 50 pounds of gold bullion and $5 million-$10 million worth of jewelry. A second plane carried 22 boxes filled with $1.2 million of newly minted currency.

Incredible, right? That's not even the worse of it: Today, Imelda Marcos serves as a member of the Philippine House of Representatives and lives in relative peace and prosperity in the Philippines. 

She's never served a day in jail for defrauding her country.



Russian Human Rights Report Casts Europe as Land of Nazis and Gay Propaganda

According to an annual report on human rights in the European Union issued by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Europe is a dark, dark place, filled with Nazis and xenophobes.

The massive, 153-page "unofficial translation" of the report provides an account of human rights violations in all 28 European Union states. These transgressions include allowing torture and mass surveillance, deteriorating prison conditions, failure to combat human trafficking, ill-treatment of refugees and migrants, and even genital mutilation. And, of course, severe violations of the freedom of expression.

Some of the worst culprits include the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, and especially the three Baltic states -- Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, all of whom have a sizable Russian minority that, according to the report, is being mistreated.

European countries have been guilty of many serious human rights violations in the past year. But coming from Russia -- a country with a vibrant population of political prisoners, whose government largely controls the media, whose ethnic minorities are severely discriminated against, and whose laws prohibit the expression of one's sexual orientation -- the accusations are of course hugely hypocritical.

Here's the dark picture of Europe that Russia would have you believe.

Xenophobia, Nazism, and Racism

One of the most pressing problems the EU should be dealing with, according to Russia, is the rise of xenophobia and racial hatred. The report mentions "Nazism" 24 times, referring to the revival of the far-right ideology in Europe, especially in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Greece, Italy, and Hungary. It's a problem that public opinion in the region "clearly underestimates." The socio-political context of the neo-Nazi revival is the recent economic and financial crisis, as well as rising immigration. Discrimination against ethnic minorities, particularly the Roma, is rampant.

While all of this is true (though the Nazi threat might be a tad exaggerated) the Russians really should not be the ones pointing fingers. Ethnic discrimination, particularly toward the minorities of the Northern Caucasus is so widespread in Russia that even then-president Dmitry Medvedev admitted in 2011 it was a problem that could cause serious problems for the country and which should be dealt with.

In a surprising twist, Russia, which recently suppressed in bloody and brutal fashion an insurgent movement in Chechnya, cast itself as an upholder of Chechen rights in the Foreign Ministry's report, disapprovingly citing a Polish court ruling that held that a customs official who had called Chechens "despicable parasites" and "Caucasian idlers" had "not exceeded the limits of freedom of expression."

Gay rights

When it comes to the rights of homosexuals, Russia has a somewhat different interpretation of what does and does not constitute a human right. Last year, Russia implemented legislation which accord the country's citizens the right to be protected from "gay propaganda." In the Russian view, many European states regularly violate this fundamental "right." In "their aggressive promotion of the sexual minorities' rights," European countries have attempted to "enforce on other countries [presumably Russia] an alien view of homosexuality and same-sex marriages as a norm of life and some kind of a natural social phenomenon that deserves support at the state level," according to the report.  

But in an attempt to add Germany to the list of human rights offenders, the report's authors have a bizarre change of heart and come to the defense of sexual minorities. "Despite the aggressive propaganda of homosexual love within the European Union and fierce criticism of third countries for alleged violations of sexual minority rights, it would be wrong to believe that the [sic] Germany's legislation in this area is free from discrimination and its society is completely tolerant. Facts show that cautious and negative attitudes towards members of the LGBT community, including homophobia, are widespread in the German society."

Freedom of expression

From there, the report only gets better as it tries to upbraid European countries for their alleged violations of press freedoms. According to the report, the EU imposes "significant restrictions on the freedom of expression and the media." In Germany, for instance, "commercialization" of the press "adversely affects the quality of information and comprehensive coverage." Though the Russians refrain from suggesting a way to fix Germany's media problem, the obvious solution would be implementing the Russian model -- where the authorities own or control most media outlets.

Forgetting that Russia has launched a massive and intrusive surveillance program to up security ahead of the Sochi Olympic, the report also criticizes EU nations for carrying mass surveillance activities as revealed by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Omitting their own atrocious prison labor camp system, which was most recently described by jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, EU nations also come under criticism for their deteriorating prison conditions.

The European Union still has a lot to work on. In an unfortunately worded statement from the report, Russian experts write that "the existing system of protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms in the EU remains ineffective and flawless." And, yes, the Russian Foreign Ministry really distributed a document with that egregious a translation error. 

But there's a glimmer of light in the tunnel. Luxembourg, one of the European Union's founding members, had no "noteworthy violations." There, the human rights situation "remains favorable as a whole."

What a relief.

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