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Swiss art museums asked to display imported art or pay tax

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Keystone / Enric Fontcuberta

A number of art museums have been asked to exhibit their tax-exempt works of art imported from abroad or risk paying tax on them.

Since the beginning of the year, various customs offices in German-speaking Switzerland have been sending letters to a number of art museums. In these letters, they demand that the museums exhibit their tax-exempt works of art imported from abroad to the public. Otherwise, customs threaten to demand additional import duties calculated based on the current market value, the NZZ am Sonntag reported on SundayExternal link. So, if a museum bought a Picasso painting in France in 1960 for CHF100,000 that is worth CHF10 million today, the museum would have to pay CHF770,000 in arrears at the current tax rate of 7.7%.

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Hundreds of works of art are potentially affected and millions of francs that could be reclaimed. The museums claim that the Swiss customs authorities are challenging a decades-old practice based on a UNESCO agreementExternal link that Switzerland signed up to in 1953.

The Federal Office for Customs responded that the measure is to verify whether the conditions for the items imported duty-free are being complied with. A permanent presentation of the artworks is not required but if the works of art are exhibited, they must be exhibited in publicly accessible areas. Temporary storage in the storage rooms of the museum is permitted. 
 

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