ROME (Reuters) - More Italians may pay their taxes using paintings and sculptures after moves by the government to revive a system of transferring cultural treasures to the state in lieu of tax payments.
The culture and tourism ministry said on Monday that minister Dario Franceschini had named a panel to calculate the value of works offered to cover income and inheritance tax dues.
As well as historical works of art, the government will accept donations of property that has archaeological value, contemporary artworks, antique books and villas.
In a statement, the ministry said setting up the panel was "a necessary step" to reboot a system that was set up in 1982 but has been little used.
Donating artworks to the state instead of paying inheritance tax is an established process in other European countries. In Britain, a similar scheme brought works worth 50 million pounds ($80.4 million) into national collections in 2012-13, according to Arts Council England.
Franceschini, who is pressing for more public and private funds to sustain the floating city of Venice and the fragile Uffizi gallery in Florence, said accepting works of art as tax payments would allow the state to achieve a "double objective".
"(On) one hand, in a moment of crisis, it allows people to fulfil their tax obligations by selling works of art, on the other hand, (Italy) regains its historical and artistic assets."
Payment of taxes and protection of the country's thousands of years worth of art and architecture are both subjects that have been vigorously debated in Italy, which is stuck in its third recession in six years and is struggling to make savings. The economy ministry estimates tax evasion costs the country around 91 billion euros a year.
Franceschini said the law sanctioning the payment process had never been applied "with conviction" in the homeland of Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, despite the experience of countries like Britain showing its "great potential".
A consultation panel was last called to assess works offered in lieu of tax in 2010. Among the goods, which included an archaeological site east of Rome and four bronze sculptures, only one painting was finally bequeathed to the state.
(1 US dollar = 0.6219 British pound)
Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Catherine Evans