The Art of Pseudonyms

How a multmillion-dollar Art Collection was unknowingly funded by the Filipino Nation

In order to get away with a life of crime, it helps to use a fake name.

 The false identity which Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos chose for himself was the decidedly un-Filipino “William Saunders.” His wife, Imelda Marcos, selected “Jane Ryan”. These were the aliases which the Marcoses used in the signature cards when they opened their first ever bank account with Credit Suisse in Zurich. The year was 1968, four years before martial law irrevocably transformed the kleptocrat Marcos into an autocrat as well. In 1968, Marcos’ presidential salary was around US $5,600, yet his Swiss bank account had a balance of US $ 950,000.

 The Marcos presidency lasted for a little over 20 years, until in 1986, when Ferdinand and Imelda fled a country which had over US $26 Billion in debt, and whose national coffers were nearly empty. Among the documents they left behind at Malacanang Palace were the Credit Suisse contracts signed in March 1968 with the names William Saunders and Jane Ryan.

 The William Saunders-Jane Ryan accounts were closed by 1970, but the balances in those accounts were transferred to a newly created entity called the Xandy Foundation. The instructions to create the Xandy Foundation were handwritten and signed by Ferdinand and Imelda. The assets of the Xandy Foundation were later transferred to Fides Trust Co., and then to the Avertina Foundation. By 1989, the accounts held in the name of Avertina Foundation totaled over US $ 240 Million.

The Avertina Foundation was only one of several foreign foundations established by the Marcoses through which they could disguise their money deposited in the Swiss banking system. There was also the Azio Foundation, the Charis Foundation, the Spinus Foundation, the Rosalys Foundation, and the Maler Foundation. The Azio Foundation would change its name into the Verso Foundation, then soon transfer its assets to the Vibur Foundation. The Charis Foundation was renamed the Scolari Foundation. The Trinidad Foundation would be dissolved, with its assets transferred to the Palmy Foundation, while the Rosalys Foundation would transfer all of its assets to the Aguamina Foundation. The only actual beneficiaries for all of these named foundations were Ferdinand and Imelda, and their children too.

For the Maler Foundation accounts, the Marcoses advised in a letter that all their instructions concerning Maler would be signed in the name of yet another false name. “John Lewis.”

 Another getaway vehicle the Marcoses would use was a Panamanian stock corporation which they organized in Liechtenstein, Arelma, S.A. Documents left behind at Malacanang as the Marcoses fled detail how in 1972, Arelma was created with corresponding instructions for the opening of a direct brokerage account in the name of the new company at the New York office of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith. By May of 1983, the assets of Arelma were over US $3.3 Million; the lawful income of the Marcoses represented only 9% of the entire assets of Arelma.

 In 2003, the Philippine Supreme Court ordered the forfeiture of the Marcos Swiss deposits in favor of the Republic of the Philippines. The forfeiture of the Arelma assets in favor of the Philippine government was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2012. The total estimated amount of these assets was over US $661 Million, a staggering sum considering that the Marcoses were supposed to have drawn their income from the civil service payroll.

 However, the amount forfeited so far is but a pittance of what may have actually been stolen. The Philippine Supreme Court would note in 1995 that “the indications were that illegally acquired debt of Marcos alone, not counting that of his relatives and cronies, was in the aggregate amount of from US $5 to 10 BILLION, the bulk of it being deposited and hidden abroad.” In contrast, from 1965 to 1984, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos declared in their tax returns a total joint income for all of those years of around US $2.4 Million. Their own accumulated official salaries from 1966 to 1985 (his, as President; hers, as Minister of Human Settlements) would have totaled only US$ 304 Thousand. 

 The wide disparity between the Marcoses’ official income and their recovered assets pales in comparison with the disparity between the recovered assets and the estimated total ill-gotten wealth. Surely, Imelda’s reputation aside, they could not spent away all those missing billions of dollars. The ill-gotten wealth, certainly, remains hidden away, perhaps in yet someone else’s name.

 In September of 2014, the Sandiganbayan (the Philippine anti-graft court) handling the Arelma case issued an order seizing eight paintings found in the known residences of Imelda Marcos. They included a Michelangelo, a Picasso, a Goya, a Gaugin, and a Miro. It is believed that in total, the Marcoses are in possession of hundreds of high value paintings created by international and Filipino artists. Most of these paintings remain missing to this day. The missing paintings include works by such masters as Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet, Bellini, Botticelli, Matisse, Cezanne, Renoir and Magritte. As part of the world’s cultural heritage, these works are priceless. They were, however, acquired at what could only have been a considerable price.

Artists too have the habit of employing pseudonyms. Titian was born Tiziano Vecellio, Grandma Moses was actually Anna Mary Robertson Moses. The works of artists have as well been used to launder cash earned through illegal activity. “Anybody can walk into a gallery and spend half a million dollars and nobody is going to ask any questions.”, the noted economist Nouriel Roubini noted in 2015. 

It is time to come clean. Full disclosure: this website is being established in the name of the Filipino people, through the Presidential Commission for Good Government. It aims to bring to the public eye artworks, many of them missing but some of them found, that are believed to have been acquired by Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos using part of the between US $5 to $10 Billion in ill-gotten wealth that belonged to the Filipino people. Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing more details about the fine art of crime that was perpetrated against the Philippine nation, with the paintings featured here as elements of the felony. These artworks may be valuable in themselves as cultural treasures, yet the process of accounting for these works – where they are now, from where and from whom they were acquired – are integral to restoring the dignity of a plundered people.

(Come join the Missing Art Movement, and help take our paintings back!)


  • Republic v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 96073, 23 January 1995
  • Republic v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 152154, 15 July 2003
  • Marcos, Jr. v. Republic, G.R. No. 189434, 25 April 2012
  • Swezey v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 2012 NY Slip Op 05093. (Decided on June 26, 2012)
  • Michele Laird. “The Business of Art, a Davos Talking Point”, (23 January 2015)
  • J. Salonga, A Journey of Struggle and Hope: The Memoir of Jovito R. Salonga (2001)

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