The Control Yuan recently passed a resolution to censure the Ministry of Education and the National Sun Yat-sen (SYS) Memorial Hall for allowing 16 citizens to obtain inflated tax refunds by valuing donated artifacts at prices much higher than their actual worth.
Huang Kuang-nan (黃光男), president of National Taiwan University of Arts, who once served as curator of the National Museum of History, said it is not uncommon for would-be artwork donors to inflate the value of their holdings because the tax law offers a deduction for art donations.
Huang said museums should employ antique experts or academics accredited by the Council for Cultural Affairs to help with artwork appraisal to prevent tax evasion.
In 2004, 16 people donated 903 pieces of clothing and accessories from minority Chinese ethnic groups to Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.
The donors claimed the collection was worth more than NT$290 million (US$10.11 million).
The memorial hall issued an appraisal document certifying the collection to be worth NT$208.8 million, a 28 percent devaluation of the originally claimed value.
The donors, including Hsu Kao-shan (許高山) and Wong Yuan-shui (翁源水), then used the document to acquire a tax refund of NT$24.7 million.
The following year, the tax bureau found there could be problems with the case and asked the Ministry of Education to check whether the appraised price was proper.
The ministry then asked Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall to reappraise the collection.
The collection was reappraised at only slightly more than NT$27.8 million, or about one-tenth of the original appraisal value. The price difference on one of the items, an emperor’s silk robe, was NT$60 million alone.
Control Yuan member Liu Yu-shan (劉玉山) said the memorial hall should not have accepted the donation because it had neither antique experts nor the proper space to store and exhibit the artwork.
According to a Control Yuan investigation, the collection was put on display only once in 2005.
After learning of the Control Yuan’s censure, memorial hall director Liang Chu-sheng (梁竹生) said the hall had conducted an internal review.
“There were indeed flaws and negligence in handling the case. Because we did not have qualified antique appraisers, we commissioned five experts from outside to appraise the collection. In the future, we will focus on collecting artifacts related to our national founding father and other national heroes,” Liang said, adding that he would ask his superior to take disciplinary action against him.
Huang said the government has an antique appraisal system in place, but the system was not properly monitored.
“We lack a unified appraising standard,” he said.
Huang said that during his tenure some would-be donors retracted their donation offers after learning that the appraised prices of their pieces fell far below what they had claimed.
Those people later donated their items to other museums which did not implement an appraising standard as stringent as the history museum’s, he said.
Huang said the Council for Cultural Affairs should play a more active role in antique and artwork appraisal to prevent irregularities.